Pfc. Robert Russell Garwood today became the first official traitor in a divisive war that had few heroes. A five-man jury of Marine Corps officers, all decorated Vietnam veterans, found Garwood guilty of collaborating with the enemy while a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
They also found him guilty on a reduced second charge of assaulting a fellow POW after protein-starved Americans killed the camp cat and skinned it.
Garwood, 34, stood at attention, stonefaced -- as he has been during most of the 11-week court martial -- and stared straight ahead in his dress greens, his chest decorated with a good conduct medal, his sharpshooter's badge and a Vietnam service ribbon, as Col. R. E. Switzer, the military judge, asked the jury: "Have the court members reached a verdict in the case?"
"Yes, sir," said Lt. Col. A. L. Vallese, 42, the balding jury foreman who manages the base club system. The stern-faced jurors avoided looking at Garwood. Then Vallese read the verdict, reached after two days of deliberation.
Garwood seemed to take it stoically, but he appeared to be choking back tears as he was hurried out a side door. Freedom, after 14 years on the books as a POW, had been so close. Donna Long, a close friend's widow who took Garwood into her home after a window was broken by his barracks bunk, sobbed quietly.
Garwood faces up to life imprisonment on the collaboration charge and up to six months behind bars on the assault charge, as well as the loss of $147,000 in back pay, held in escrow and frozen by the U.S. Military Court of Claims.
About the possibility of prison, Garwood said this in a recent interview: "It doesn't really disturb me. I had not known the meaning of freedom . . . for the last 15 years. and [only] until I can know . . . freedom again, only then will I fear losing it."
The jury that determined Garwood's guilt must now rule on his sentence, as is military custom.
The verdict, which is subject to automatic review, appears to set yet another tough standard for what it means to be a Marine, shoring up a hardliner's view of the Code of Conduct, the military's 10 commandments for American prisoners of war.
Switzer earlier had dismissed three charges, including one of desertion. In an interview today, he said there was not enough evidence to support a conviction on those charges.
In Lynchburg, Va., David Harker, the former POW Garwood was convicted of striking, called the conviction "another tragedy of a very tragic war."
"I get no pleasure out of seeing an individual tried and convicted," he said. "I'm relieved that it's over."
But there was rejoicing at the base NCO club in Camp Lejeune, with sergeants toasting each other and the Marine Corps standards they felt had been upheld by the verdict.
"That SOB should have been shot before he ever came back from 'nam," one staff sergeant, a two-tour Vietnam veteran who called himself "Tex," said over a table of empty Miller cans. "That mother might have been the one who shot at me, for all I know."
Defense lawyers, backed up by three forensic psychiatrists, maintained that Garwood was driven insane by torture, isolation and deprivation and could not appreciate the criminality of his conduct.
Garwood's chief defense attorney, John Lowe, said before the verdict was announced that he felt that his client got a fair trial, but that he planned to appeal any finding of guilt. The base commander will automatically review the case, and from there the case goes automatically to the Navy Court of Review in Washington, and may be appealed further to the Military Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
The findings make Garwood the only Vietnam-era serviceman to be found guilty of misconduct while a POW. Similar charges against eight POWs who returned with 550 American prisoners of war in Operation Homecoming in 1973 were dropped by the Pentagon under White House pressure soon after a Marine sergeant in the group committed suicide. Defense attorneys argued that the policy applied to their client, but the argument was rejected.
The verdict may freeze-frame the ghost of Vietnam, but it fails to lift the aura of puzzlement and host of unanswered questions that shroud Garwood, who spent almost half his life in Vietnam.
Nine former POWs who spent time in several jungle prison camps with Garwood, took the stand to testify against the renegade Marine that one dubbed a "White Vietnamese."
Some had vowed to get even if they ever got out of jungle captivity alive. They described how Garwood acted as interpreter at political indoctrination classes at the prison camp, sometimes leading the sessions himself to extol the virtues of the National Liberation Front and suggest that they "cross over"; how he informed on them, interrogated POWs new to the camp; how he served as the camp guard, carrying an AK47 assault rifle, and how he wore Ho Chi Minh sandals and ate well while they went barefoot and starved.
By the time the first American encountered Garwood, he'd been a captive for two years.
The defense disputed little of the POW testimony, maintaining that Garwood was broken and driven insane by tortune, a defense similar to the unsuccessful brainwashing defense attorney F. Lee Bailey tried for Patricia Hearst.
Instead, they made their case on the testimony of three psychiatrist, who diagnosed Garwood as mentally ill and unable to appreciate the criminality of his actions. Navy psychiatrists for the government disagreed.
Dr. Emmanuel Tanay, a Detroit psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, who testified for the defense, said Garwood "suffered an absolute psychic trauma in Vietnam, the kind of experience no human being, no matter how resistant or strong, could survive without suffering emotional injuries," a trauma that made the teen-aged Marine regress to "childlike, animal-like behavior" in which survival became the overwhelming drive. "The only important thing was to get food. His conscience did not operate."
The austere courtroom on this sprawling Marine base is half a world and cultural light years away from the white sandy beach outside Da Nang, where, in 1965, by his own account, Garwood was wounded in a firefight with the Viet Cong. He says he killed two VC, but was overwhelmed, captured and tortured mercilessly.
According to Lowe, Garwood tried to uphold the Marine Corps standards of bravery by trying to escape twice. Recaptured both times, he was beaten, stripped naked and kept for a month in a bamboo cage without food or water, growing weaker and suffering from exposure, leeches, mosquitoes and tropical disease.
His captors forced him to watch their games of Russian Roulette with captured South Vietnamese soldiers. Garwood watched as they died for the amusement of his captures. Finally, said Lowe, he broke.
Garwood, his defense attorneys argued, has always been star-crossed -- one of the "10 percent who never got the word," a 10th-grade high school dropout, dropped on his head at birth, abandoned in childhood by his mother and raised in a houseful of sibings by his father and stepmother. He joined the Marines for salvation in 1963, and was soon off to Vietnam.
He was a 19-year-old Jeep driver, 10 days away from rotating home to Adams, Ind., when he was captured. He had planned to marry his sweetheart, Mary Speer Crabtree, who testified that Garwood had proposed in a letter she received shortly before he disappeared. She married someone else.
Garwood said he was held prisoner for 14 years, but in February 1979 he managed to slip out of his work camp at Yen Bai, during the Tet celebration, and traveled to Hanoi. There he passed a note to a Finnish economist with the United Nations, identifying himself as Bobby Garwood, a U.S. Marine who wanted to go home.
Several weeks later, after the State Department interceded, he was on his way back to the "world," as stateside was called by homesick soldiers in Vietnam.
He first learned of the charges against him when he stepped off the plane in Bangkok, gaunt-faced, dark glasses shielding hollow, deep-set eyes, jet black hair slicked back in the style of Elvis Presley, whose rock 'n' roll era was Garwood's last contact with America.