September 22, 1971: Ernest Medina is acquitted
On this day almost 50 years ago, Captain Ernest Medina was acquitted of all charges brought against him. The U.S. Army officer had been accused of masterminding the March 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, where countless unarmed men, women, and children were brutally killed.
My Lai massacre
On March 16, 1968, Captain Medina and his unit (Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade of the 23rd [Americal] Division) entered the village of My Lai in the coastal lowlands of South Vietnam.
Over the course of a few hours, the men involved killed over 345 civilians — although some say the death toll was as high as 504. The victims, many of who were women and children, were shot, bayoneted, and blasted with grenades. It was, by far, one of the darkest days in U.S. history.
In November 1969, the killings were exposed by independent journalist Seymour Hersh. Tipped off about the massacre, he wrote a series of articles that ended up winning him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.
The American public was shocked. The war was already vastly unpopular — and U.S. civilians couldn’t bear the thought of such atrocities happening at the hands of our own military. It was the tipping point for many.
Medina gets charged
In 1969, Captain Medina (who many would later come to see as a scapegoat) was charged with murder, manslaughter, and assault. In 1971, all charges were dropped, when the military judge at his court-martial made an error in instructing the jury.
13 others were charged with various crimes in conjunction with My Lai, but only Lt. William Calley was found guilty. The officer, gravely inexperienced at the time of the attack, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 22 civilians but was ultimately paroled by President Nixon in November 1974.
After his trial, Medina retired from service and lived a quiet life out of the public eye. He died peacefully in 2018 and is survived by his wife and children.