My Fight for Freedom

The facts were these. My brother was the one who wanted to enlist, but we went in to the Marine Corps together. I served in Vietnam, my brother didn’t (through no fault of his own. Rules are rules) But he got his discharge, and I still had two years to serve! Damn that lying bastage of a recruiter! I had served my country, did my duty in a Combat Zone! But this peace time Marine Corps was driving me crazy. The recruiter lied to a 17 year old, and that should cost me another 2 years of service?

Maybe it was different because I was sent to Nam personally. No one else from my unit went. I didn’t know anyone there. So when I came back, no one else was there “like me”. I was a “salty veteran” in a unit of “wanna-bes”. The only haircut I got in Nam was when they put me in the brig. Lots of people in my unit in Nam wore their boots “jungle laced”. Now I was getting nit-picked by snot-nosed Corporals. I used to remind them that I had more time in as a Private than they had in their entire career. It didn’t stop them from busting me because my boots weren’t laced ‘properly’. And if that Corporal didn’t want to hear “Fuck You” he shouldn’t have come through the squad bay banging trash can lids like it was freaking boot camp!

Coming back from overseas I had snagged a sweet posting at a computer center in Kansas City. Only I never made it there. My record made it there first and I received New Orders while on leave. I had been re-assigned to a combat unit in North Carolina. It actually didn’t turn out to be bad posting. I ended up in the Regimental Training Unit. It was out job to do the ‘infantry training” for the new Marines coming out of Boot Camp. But the job also required a certain level of “pomp” I was not willing to perform.

I’ll be the first to admit that a freshly starched uniform looks snappy. But then you would have to admit that wearing them feels like you ware wearing a suit of armor. Starched uniforms looks sharp because they don’t bend. They are uncomfortable to wear. They are NOT required to be starched by regulation. I stood behind that regulation and wore un-starched utilities, a comfortable and legal uniform.

For the second time in my career I was eligible for promotion to Corporal. I actually got the promotion the first time, but by the time the paperwork had found me in Nam, I had already been busted back down to Private. So they just tore up my Corporal promotion. I was finally eligible once again. I asked my Lt for the promotion, for all the hard work I had done for him as a Lance Corporal. He told me that until I showed up for work in starched utilities there would be no promotion. It was the final straw.

I left that night, hopped a flight out of state, and was long gone from there before they even knew I was gone. I wasn’t going to play the game any more. I went to Detroit because I had no ties there and it was across the river from Canada. Whenever I would send a letter I would cross the border and mail it from a Canadian Post Office. I went back and forth using my Military ID.

While I was living in Detroit I obtained a lawyer and we drafted a 6 page Petition for Discharge from the United States Marine Corps. The first 3 pages were reasons I felt I had earned and deserved an Honorable Discharge. The second 3 pages were reasons I felt showed it would be in the Marine Corps’ best interest to let me go. I then went home to see my family before turning myself in. Upon my return to my unit in North Carolina I delivered my Petition to my Commanding Officer. I had been gone 67 days.

Of course I was charged with being AWOL, and with the length of the absence over 60 days, it made me a Deserter. I stood for a Courts Martial. It was a spirited defense, but in the end I was sentenced to 45 days at hard labor, forfeiture of rank, and forfeiture of pay. My JAG lawyer managed to get the hard labor postponed pending the outcome of my Petition. He was rewarded with a transfer to Okinawa immediately after my trial.

The deliberations drug on and on, week after week. When I had lost all hope I tried to kill myself. Fortunately my body doesn’t react well to barbiturates and I threw up. But by then I was hallucinating and got the ride to the Hospital in restraints. For some reason, that seemed to break the deadlock on my Petition. It was granted.

I didn’t get to pack my bags and go home though. I had to WAIT for the Discharge to be processed. During this time I was repeatedly offered an Undesireable Discharge. I could leave immediately. All I had to do was sign that I accepted it. But I had served Honorably! I earned my Honorable discharge! I held out for what was granted in my petition. More weeks went by. At one point I discovered that a Major at Battalion had been carrying my discharge around in his briefcase for some time, so it wouldn’t get any closer to me. Also during this time I was physically attacked by a Sergeant in Battalion Headquarters in front of numerous witnesses. He was personally offended by my Petition. They transferred him to Okinawa in exchange for me not pressing charges on him.

One day it finally came! I had my Honorable Discharge in my hands! True, they did slap a negative SPN number on my Discharge. But I bear my SPN code proudly. A small price to pay for my freedom.

All that being said. I am proud to have been a United States Marine. I am proud to have served in Vietnam. I am proud of my Honorable Discharge.

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