People often come up to me at airports and say, ‘I know you,’ ” says Ernest L. Medina of Menominee, Mich. “But they think they’ve seen me on Hawaii Five-O or Barney Miller.”
What they really saw him on, back in September 1971, was the evening news. Medina, then a U.S. Army captain, was tried and found not guilty of murder, manslaughter and assault charges stemming from the 1968 massacre of 175 Vietnamese at Mylai. Lt. William Calley, Medina’s subordinate, who was found guilty, testified that he had acted under his commander’s orders, a charge that Medina denied.
After the trial Medina resigned from the Army, ending a 16-and-a-half-year career, and took a job as vice-president of administration and personnel at the Enstrom Helicopter Corporation in Menominee. The company had been bought during the trial by his famous attorney, F. Lee Bailey. “I had worked with Ernie for two years on the trial,” Bailey explains, “and had done a complete character background on him. I hired him for his leadership qualities and because he is a very loyal individual.”
Bailey’s business gamble has paid off handsomely. From an annual sales volume of $450,000 when he bought it, Enstrom’s gross has soared to $10 million on the strength of its three-passenger helicopters. And last July Bailey, who never sent Medina a bill for legal services, promoted his former client to general manager. Photographs of Bailey decorate the walls of Medina’s office, but he still refers to his boss formally as “Mr. Bailey.”
Medina, 41, who learned to fly helicopters as part of the job, knows every phase of production involving 3,800 parts and 1,100 man-hours that go into each machine. He is popular with the firm’s 155 employees. “Ernie’s inspired me,” says a fellow executive, “to do a lot more than I thought I could do.”
Medina, his German-born wife, Barbara, 36, and their children, Ingrid, 18, Greg, 17, and Cecil, 14, have adjusted happily to small-town life. They live in a 72-year-old, 33-room Dutch colonial mansion that they are busy restoring. A farm laborer’s son raised in Colorado, Medina confesses, however, “I still miss the mountains.”
He does not dwell much in the past. Of the war that so changed his life, Medina says only: “It became too political. They wouldn’t prosecute it in a military way. If they’d been willing to destroy the Red River Valley dams in North Vietnam, we would have ended it much sooner and on our own terms.