Medina was an Army captain in 1968, when U. S. troops under his command killed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians.
MILWAUKEE — Former Army Capt. Ernest L. Medina, a key figure in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, has died in Wisconsin. He was 81.
Medina was an Army captain on March 16,1968, when American troops under his command killed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. He was acquitted in a court-martial over the massacre.
Medina died May 8, according to an obituary written by his family. No cause of death was given. He was being buried Monday.
Medina was captain of Charlie Company, whose mission was to attack a crack Vietcong unit. The intelligence soldiers received was inaccurate and they encountered no resistance in the village of My Lai and a neighboring community. Charlie Company killed 504 villagers in just three to four hours, most of them women, children and elderly men.
It wasn’t until more than a year later that news of the massacre became public.
Medina was accused of responsibility in the deaths of at least 182 civilians. Medina, whose platoon took up a position in reserve outside the village, said during his trial that he was not with the soldiers when the massacre happened and that he didn’t know about it until it was over. Medina acknowledged killing one woman, but said he believed she was about to attack him.
Lt. William L. Calley Jr., who led the first platoon into My Lai, was the only one convicted of the 25 men originally charged in the massacre.
In a 1988 interview with The Associated Press, Medina looked back on My Lai as a “horrendous thing” that never should have happened.
“I have regrets for it, but I have no guilt over it because I didn’t cause it,” he said. “That’s not what the military, particularly the United States Army, is trained for. But then again, maybe the war should have never happened. I think if everybody were to look at it in hindsight, I’m sure a lot of the politicians and generals would think of it otherwise. Maybe it was a war that we should have probably never gotten involved in as deeply as we did without the will to win it.”
Medina earned a Silver Star for bravery for actions he took saving the lives of fellow soldiers during a battle shortly before My Lai.
Although Medina was acquitted of murder and manslaughter for the My Lai killings, his Army career was ruined and he resigned his commission. He moved with his wife and three children to Marinette, Wisconsin, in 1971. He worked as a salesman for a helicopter manufacturer for a while, and later went into real estate.
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