Former U.S. Army Captain Ernest Medina, who was acquitted of murder in the infamous My Lai Massacre, has died in Marinette, Wisconsin.
He was 81; no cause of death was announced.
Medina was a commander of Charlie Company, which was sent on a search-and-destroy mission against North Vietnamese guerillas in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai in March 1968.
Medina’s unit had been given faulty intelligence that the village would be emptied of civilians.
As Medina stayed behind at a helicopter landing zone, an inexperienced officer, Lieutenant William Calley, led troops into the village who began firing on unarmed civilians, carrying out their search-and-destroy orders.
When the shooting ended, hundreds of people were dead in ditches, in huts and along roads. Most of the victims were women, babies and old men.
The Army put the death toll at nearly 350, while South Vietnamese said more than 500 were slaughtered.
Medina and Calley were court-martialed and tried. Medina, who testified that he knew nothing about the massacre until it was over, was acquitted. Calley was convicted.
The My Lai Massacre was one of the ugliest chapters in U.S. military history. The American public found out about the killings more than a year later, when journalist Seymour Hersh was tipped off about the massacre. His articles helped solidify growing opposition to the Vietnam War.
Medina became a salesman and real estate agent after leaving the army. He called My Lai a “horrendous thing” and something he regrets. But he said he felt no guilt because he said he did not cause it.
“That’s not what the military, particularly the United States Army, is trained for,” he said. “It was a guerilla war. It’s something I feel a lot of draftees were not trained for. … I’m talking not just about lieutenants. I’m talking about senior officers.”
Medina added that maybe the U.S. never should have gotten involved in the Vietnam War without the will to win.