I am somewhat surprised by the people who are being touted as the answer to all the very reasonable questions about the treatment of Robert L. Garwood by the United States Government. At various times the same individuals have had to defend themselves from allegations of collaboration with the enemy. Frankly, there is something professionally distasteful about military men sinking to the level of spoiled children, pointing the finger at another and saying; "He was worse than me." Was he? Not in my professional opinion.
I don't wish to kick the crutch from under the tired argument by too many returned POWs; "We all violated The Code to a certain extent." No, we all did not. Then there is the huge number who only produced propaganda... "To get my name out." The Code and UCMJ make no allowances for such behavior. Even though our military and government, morally and ethically weakened, seem to excuse any type of illegal, unethical and amoral behavior, with the exception of sexual harassment, they cannot ignore the law except for one low ranking person.
I respect the United States Marine Corps' position on trying to hold the line on the principle of maintaining "Good Order and Discipline." But, that line should have been drawn first with Sergeant Jon M. Sweeney, released in Hanoi and who did not return to the United States until later in 1970. Where was he in the interim? The Soviet Union, Sweden, etc. He negotiated the terms of his return. He has been held up as a "smart" guy, who was able to convince the enemy he agreed with their cause "allowing him to get away." What he did was collaborate for early release. Keep in mind he was a Non-Commissioned Officer and should have been held to a higher standard than Garwood. He was not. It is claimed that Garwood "turned down release." The release turn-down took place prior to the end of the war. If that is a crime, I myself am guilty of this offense. I was interviewed for release, in full view of my fellow POWs. I turned that down and have been hailed by my fellow POWs for insisting that only those still ill or with life threatening wounds, like Captain David Baker, be released.
In his recently released book, CWO-4 Frank Anton decries the Government not launching a mission to save him. We were fighting a war, and the rescue of Frank, Garwood or me was not and should not have been the highest priority. As far as getting out of a POW camp, the responsibility for getting out first lies with the individual. Both Senior Officers in Garwood's camp and numerous others, lobbied for release. Some of these early releases testified against Garwood at his Court Martial. They violated the UCMJ and The Code of Conduct by accepting early release, for whatever reasons given. Garwood is on stronger legal ground than those who testified against him.
I want to be very up front about this. Garwood was charged with striking POW David Harker. After hearing some of the statements made by Harker and others over Radio Hanoi, I would have strangled him, if I could have reached him. But that would have been wrong also. I would then be like our government in dealing with Garwood. Acting on limited information to right an assumed wrong. I find it rather amazing that Garwood is charged with using a loud speaker to incite his fellow Americans to defect on the battlefield. All testimony on this is "hearsay," to say the least. We have reams of paper and hundreds of spools of tape with American POWs saying terrible things about our country. We have *Frank Anton* on tape, damning America. Frank says it is not him and probably "someone" from the infamous "Peace Committee." There is a way to prove that this is not Anton, by using other propaganda from the Peace Committee members, to prove who it really was. Any enlisted man would be guilty of impersonating an Officer. That is a crime and he could be charged. One thing for certain, it is not Bobby Garwood on those tapes.
As much as I disagree with Frank damning Garwood, I adamantly condemn his attempts to turn Army Doctor and Captain Floyd Kushner into some kind of hero. He was not and the evidence of his collaboration is clear. He violated his oath as an Officer and that oath, legally and morally took precedent over any other he had taken, including that taken as a physician. For some reason, a case has always been built that something less could be expected of Kushner. Actually, by Regulation and Geneva Convention, MORE is expected of Doctor's on the battlefield. This can even require the Doctor to remain on the battlefield with wounded soldiers, including the enemy, submitting himself to capture.
But the most compelling defense of Garwood is in the person of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edison Miller. He was charged with traitorous activities. He was reprimanded for his terrible performance as an Officer and went on to run for political office, under the tutelage of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. We, his fellow returned POWs, spoke out against him in writing. He sued us and he lost. The reason? He had done what we had accused him of doing; Collaboration.
During the Court Martial of Garwood, LTC Miller was given a letter from the Secretary of the Navy. It spoke ill of him, but in no way impaired his retirement income, back pay and his ability to enter politics.
From Edison Miller to O.J. Simpson, the facts of their guilt or innocence become totally unimportant in a rush to protect their "rights." In the case of Robert Garwood, the prosecution was selective in nature and the rules only pertained to him. With the flimsiest of physical evidence Garwood was convicted, on testimony from men, who themselves were open to manipulation for past, documented, misdeeds. Thus, by its selectivity the prosecution ceased to be a tool of Good Order and Military Discipline and degenerated down into a case of individual persecution. Even crimes for which Garwood was acquitted, are spoken of by US Government officials, as if he had been found guilty.
The United States Government had an opportunity to prosecute returned POWs for real crimes running from desertion, cowardice on the battlefield and collaboration to actually volunteering to serve on the battlefield with the Communist Vietnamese Government's "Peoples Army." A "political" decision was made not to prosecute, based on a stated desire to; "Bind up the wounds of War."
The case of United States Government persecution of Garwood is based, not on his guilt or innocence, but on his embarrassing said Government, by returning home. When returned POWs are pushed forward to write and speak about Bob Garwood, before listening to them, one must insure there is no chain of guilt that holds them hostage to a Government program of persecuting those who embarrass it. In the case of Frank Anton, this is, sadly true. Not that Frank acted any differently that so many others in the prisons of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Garwood has been maligned, verbally and mentally tortured by our Government. He has nothing. No medical care. No back pay. No Purple Heart for acknowledged wounds. But in one way, he is in a better position than many other returned POWs. Every stumble he made, every crime, real or imagined, have been thrown into his face again and again. But he is not hostage to an imaginary background of heroism and honor, that is based on a lie. In that regard, he is more fortunate than so many returned POWs.