A U.S. Marine Corps private who fled to Canada 21 years ago to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War was granted a discharge yesterday, two days after he surrendered to officials at Quantico Marine Base to face desertion charges.

Ron Jacko, 42, walked away from Quantico about 9:45 a.m. yesterday. Quantico spokesman Eric Carlson said the base's commanding general had decided late Thursday to grant an order freeing Jacko from the military on an "other-than-honorable" discharge.

Under Marine discharge regulations, Jacko was given $61.50, three-fourths of the bus fare to Cleveland, his hometown, Carlson said. He plans to travel there to visit his ailing mother, his reason for returning to the United States.

Jacko, who said he deserted in 1969 shortly after completing basic training, said after his release that he feels he is free from an "emotional and psychological prison" for the first time since he crossed the Canadian border.

"I just want to be free, to feel free, in this country again, instead of looking over from across the border and feeling restricted," said the health food store assistant manager. "I am just enjoying being able to walk around free."

Jacko said he was housed during his two-day stay with five other Marines, who also had returned to face their fate after deserting.

"I hope this is a signal that the military is ready to put this war behind us and begin to heal," said Todd Ensign, director of a nonprofit organizations for soldiers that assisted Jacko in his return. "I think most Americans now feel that war was fundamentally wrong and by letting him go they may be sending a signal that there is nothing to be gained from prosecuting these people."

Thousands of soldiers who walked away from the military are listed as deserters. No figures were available on how many are jailed and how many are granted releases without punishment.

Jacko's wife, Nadia, said from her home in Toronto that she is relieved that her husband had been released. "He's finally able to get on with his life -- it's about time," she said.

Ron Jacko said he was planning to return to Toronto yesterday afternoon, where he will "relax and think" about his future, which may include moving to Cleveland.