Ernest Lou Medina (August 27, 1936 – May 8, 2018) was a captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War. He was the commanding officer of Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry of the 11th Brigade, Americal Division, the unit responsible for the My Lai Massacre of 16 March 1968. He was court martialed in 1971 for his role in that war crime, but acquitted the same year.
Role in the My Lai Massacre
According to the 1970 investigation by General William R. Peers, Medina:
- "Planned, ordered, and supervised the execution by his company of an unlawful operation against inhabited hamlets in Son My village, which included the destruction of houses by burning, killing of livestock, and the destruction of crops and other foodstuffs, and the closing of wells; and impliedly directed the killing of any persons found there."
- "Possibly killed as many as three noncombatants in My Lai."
Medina was court-martialed in 1971 for willingly allowing his men to murder noncombatants. Medina denied all the charges and claimed that he never gave any orders to kill Vietnamese noncombatants.
Medina's defense team, led by F. Lee Bailey, and a support staff that included Gary Myers, alleged that his men killed Vietnamese noncombatants under their own volition and not under Medina's orders. Medina also testified that he did not become aware that his troops were out of control at My Lai until the massacre was already well underway.
Medina also strongly denied killing any Vietnamese noncombatant at My Lai, with the exception of a young woman whom two soldiers testified that they found hiding in a ditch. When she emerged with her hands up, Medina shot her because, he claimed, he thought she had a grenade. In fact, she was unarmed. The defense lawyers brought up many incidents during the Vietnam War of Việt Cộng suspects and sympathizers faking surrender to use hidden pistols or grenades to harm or kill American military personnel.
In August 1971, Medina was ultimately found not guilty of all charges. His jury deliberations lasted about 60 minutes.
Despite his acquittal, the court martial and negative publicity brought Medina's military career to an end. He resigned his commission and left the Army shortly afterward. He later admitted that, during his court martial, he had "not been completely candid to avoid disgracing the military, the United States, his family, and himself."
After resigning from the Army, Medina went to work at an Enstrom Helicopter Corporation plant owned by F. Lee Bailey in Menominee, Michigan. Medina moved with his family to Marinette, Wisconsin. He worked in his family's real estate business: Medina, Inc. Realtor in Marinette, Wisconsin. He died on May 8, 2018, at the age of 81.