How Things Work, Law, Military and Veterans

Undesirables I Have Known, Stolen Valor, 1972

I arrived at my new duty assignment in Japan in February, 1972. They had just concluded a rare general court martial for that command, Attempted Murder. It had ended with an acquittal and the entire JAG staff was outraged.

The fellow who beat this rap was a decorated Sergeant E-5 who, after his tour in Vietnam had been re-assigned to a cush job at the nearby Army Hospital Command.

I won’t mention his name as he later became my client, and may still be alive.  I’ll just call him Sgt Dan.

It was an open-and-shut case the lawyers thought, Sgt Dan arrested with a knife in his hand standing over another soldier outside one of the NCO clubs. The fight apparently was over Sgt Dan’s wife, a beautiful Thai girl he had brought to Japan when he changed stations. Apparently she was having an affair with this soldier who’d been cut up. Motive, Opportunity, and of course, a fistful of witnesses. The other soldier was in critical condition for several days, and nearly died.

A serious case.

For the lawyer-JAG’s the outrage of the case was 1) Sgt Dan was acquitted by a jury of four officers and two enlisted men, all with CIB’s (combat duty), and 2) considering the strength of the evidence against him, the single piece of evidence that actually brought about his acquittal was that single brace of ribbons above Sgt Dan’s pocket as he sat on the witness stand; CIB, Bronze star w/ V-device, Purple Heart. But most of all, that Silver Star.

His civilian attorney pointed to each and simply asked Sgt Dan to identify them, and explain what each medal was for, and then passed the orders for each award to the judge to be marked-as-evidence by the clerk, a copy then given to the prosecutor and finally to the jury to be taken back for deliberation.

After less than an hour they returned with a complete acquittal. A decorated veteran defending the honor of his wife.

Even though the officers of our JAG office had passed many officers and enlisted men in the hallways of that giant Pentagon-like complex on the old Imperial Japanese Army Military Academy grounds, they never really knew what all those ribbons stood for. What they meant.

So they were outraged that a single brace of medals for heroism could get a man off from nearly killing another man.

I just listened, as I was about to take over duties as Chief Defense Counsel.

About a year later, Sgt Dan came to my office, only he was PFC Dan by that time. Seems they (the post command) was wanting to take his baby and his wife (he and his Thai wife had a baby by that time), send them both back to Thailand and to send him stateside. He told me since he no longer rated post-housing, he would have to give up his married quarters.

I first asked him how he lost his stripes, and he said it was for being AWOL. Then I asked him how come I didn’t know as I advised troops on virtually every Article 15 in the command. He said he just accepted it. (A lot of half-truths and misdirection there.) Then he said they (the Army) were trying to take his baby, which he left with my secretary in the outer office.

I checked, and seems he’d been carrying the baby around with him everywhere for close to a month, daring the Command to forcibly take her, signalling injury should they try to. No really. A real piece of work.

His story didn’t square, so I went to hospital command admin and to the beefed-up CID (we’d just become a Major Command with a 3-star down the hall).

The rest of the story

Seems CID had begun investigating reports stateside of soldiers boasting combat records that weren’t true, and they were able to trace a fake-orders ring coming out of our Hospital Command where Sgt Dan had worked. They were zeroing in on three men, one of whom had served with Sgt Dan in Saigon, where he had been, yep, an E-4 clerk instead of a stallion Infantry Squad Leader up-country.

A pretty lucrative trade, it seemed, Japan a pass-through for thousands of soldiers en route to the States and separation. Enhanced 201 files were worth a lot.

And all those orders were coming off mimeographs at the Hospital Command, one of whom was an old buddy of Sgt Dan’s from Saigon. CID believed Dan may have been a principal in the crime ring, but because of his previous trial, higher ups figured it might be best just to send him home and cut him loose.

Then came evidence about Dan’s side business, which prompted his visit to my office. It seems Sgt Dan had brought his Thai wife to Japan for the sole purpose of prostitution. He was pimping her, and making a killing at it, usually in the “love motels” just off post, where there were rooms with ceiling mirrors and all sorts of “toys”…the Japanese were absolute fiends for this sort of sport…but also in his own quarters for select US military clientele.

It seems the dust-up between Sgt Dan and the soldier he tried to kill was not about romance as much as he was enjoying his wife for free.

I was just a junior captain then, but it wasn’t hard to figure that once this new information crossed the desk of a lot of colonels, depending on who they knew who might have been implicated by this sordid back story, the staff response would range from a “hang him high” reaction, to “let’s sweep this under the rug and hope it all goes away”.

In the end the Under the Rug group won out, and PFC Dan’s wife was returned to Thailand, but her daughter, a US citizen by law, accompanied her father back to the States, where he separated from the Army and vanished into the wind.

She would be about 45 about now, same age as my youngest son, born in the same hospital. I sometimes wonder how she’s made out, if she’s been able to make it this far.


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