At American Legion Post 129, there is more sympathy than anger over the case of Marine Pfc. Robert G. Garwood, alleged defector and hometown boy gone bad
"What I hear is more or less agreement that he's paid his price, and they should let him some home," bartender James Hood, veteran of World War II and Korea, said this afternoon. "I'm just glad I'm not in his shoes."
Lloyd Sanford, who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp in 1945, nodded in accord. "At least he went. He was there. He didn't go to Canada or dodge the draft."
Scarcely anyone in this quiet town of 9,360 remembers Garwood, who until this week had been in North Vietnam since his capture in 1965. He was a kid who grew up on the worong side of the tracks, the oldest of eight children. His family bounced around, moving from here in southeast Indiana to Michigan and then to Indianapolis, where Garwood dropped out of school to join the Marines. The family now lives in a trailer house in the nearby crossroads hamlet of Adams.
One of the few schoolmates with any recollections of Garwood described him today as "a misfit, who always seemed out of place. Kids picked on him. Teachers picked on him. When there was trouble, he was always in it. I always thought he was trying to get attention."
Garwood, who has been charged with desertion, abetting the enemy and three other crimes that carry the death penalty, is expected back in the United States next week.
He has been the talk of Greensburg for weeks. His name has been in the Greensburg Daily News almost every day since Feb. 15. His face has been on network television. Said a wag: "He's the biggest thing that has happened to this town since that tree sprouted out of the courthouse tower," an event that made it a historic monument, "And that was in 1866."
Greensburg is a typical midwestern county seat. The anti-war movement never gained a foothold. Its politics is Republican. Its background is agriculture -- cattle, hogs and grain production, mostly. The largest company in town makes faucets. It employs 710 people.
Patriotism runs high here. Local lawyer Frank Hamilton is a candidate for national commander of the American Legion. His son, Frank Jr., ran for Congress last fall.
Nine Decatur County men died in Vietnam and scores served there. One might expect local outrage over a Marine who allegedly cooperated with the enemy.
"But everyone has been beautiful," said Jack Garwood, the Marine's father. "I haven't heard an ugly world. Everyone says give him a chance. Let him come home and tell his story."
"The community is very sympathetic to the father and the rest of the family," said William Oliver Smith, a young attorney. "It's the old prodigal son thing. My son may have sinned. But he's come home and he's still my son."
"I have a lot of empathy with the father," Smith added. "I have seen people with a lot more education and sophistication than Robert Garwood do things a lot worse."
Part of the favorable reaction to Robert is due to the fact that he is a hometown boy, and hometown boys, no matter what they do, should be treated well.
As it is, some feel he's being treated too harshly. "I think they tried to crucify him before they brought him out," said World War II vet Sanford. They're maaking it sound like he's already guilty in the papers and on TV."
There is also a feeling that Garwood was part of a war that everyone would like to forget, and an uncertainty among many, especially those with combat experience, of how they would have stood up in a prisoner-of-war camp.
"I have to put myself in his position. I don't know what I'd have done if I was captured," said Vietnam vet Donald Fry, a vice president of Decatur County Bank. "I would hope I wouldn't defect. But you never know what a man has to do to survive. I can't hold any grudge against Garwood."
The sympathy, while widespread, is not universal. "Mr. Garwood has obviously had some loyalty to the North Vietnamese," said Roland Shirk, who was wounded in Vietnam. "As such I think there should be legal proceedings. I consider him a defector."
There is also a great deal of bewilderment over why Garwood, now 32, stayed in North Vietnam when other POWs left. "The war is over, and he's the last one out," said Don Eubank in his barber shop on the courthouse square. The thing I can't understand is why he didn't come home when the rest of them did."
Garwood dropped out of Indianapolis Arsenal Technical High School at 17 to join the Marines. "That's the age kids want to be their own boss," his father, who works in a small printing frim here, said today. "He wanted to get out and run, to be his own man. I tried to put a midnight curfew on him. You know a 17-year-old kid and a 12 o'clock curfew don't get along."
Until this week, the family's last word from him was a letter written Sept. 11, 1965. He had liked the Marines until he got to Vietnam. "He hated it over there. He saw what we were doing to that country," his father said. "He was counting the minutes and hours before he could get home."
The young Marine was first listed as missing in action on Sept. 22, 1965. Back pay, totaling $150,000, is being withheld until charges are disposed of.
His father talked with him by phone last night. "Until we talk to him and find out what really happened I told him to keep his mouth shut," he said. "He told me to tell the family that he loved them."