At 5 a.m. today, the word reached 39 young Marines deep in the piney darkness of the Carolina woods, rifle squad leaders in training who had been out of touch with civilization for a week.
Their captain stood before them inside the green briefing tent and delivered the news: Pfc. Robert Garwood, one of their own in a war most were too young to remember, had been found guilty of collaborating with the enemy in Vietnam and assaulting a fellow prisoner of war. The men put down their M16s, clapped and cheered.
"We gave it a good hurrah," beamed Cpl. Frances Trunck, 22, of Akron, Ohio, chewing on a plug of tobacco.
"I say they should give him life at hard labor," growled Cpl. Paul Jurik, also 22, when asked what sentence the jury of five Marine officers, all Vietnam veterans, should give Garwood. "Make an example of him. . . ."
There appears to be little sympathy for Garwood on this sprawling Marine base, named for World War I leatherneck hero John Warner (Frenchy) Lejeune, who is honored by the corps not only for battlefield glory in the trenches but also for his mottoes: "Never forget the power of example . . . Exact a high standard of conduct: Strict prformance of duty, rigid compliance with orders."
In the eyes of many young Marines, Garwood is an embarrassment, a reminder of the need for more discipline in the corps. "We'd have a whole lot fewer UAs [unauthorized absences] and deserters if we took a couple out to the main gate and shot 'em," said Trunck, one of dozens of Marines who argued against mercy for Garwood, who face life imprisonment on the collaboration conviction.
For Trunck, at least, Garwood also symbolizes the different standard that was applied in 1973 to eight prisoners of war against whom charges of collaboration and desertion were dropped under White House pressure after one committed suicide.
"There should have been a whole lot more than Garwood convicted," he said. "But the Nixon administration decided to let them go. They should be hauled back and tried, too."
"What's the verdict?" Marines yelled from barracks' balconies to reporters sprinting Thursday from the military courtroom where some Marines felt the corps' discipline and the Code of Conduct for POW behavior had been on trial for 11 weeks.
"Guilty!" the reporters yelled back.
"He got what he deserves!" came the reply. "He got what he deserves!"
But some older Marines were less condemning. "Why stick 'pfc. Sad Sack?" said C. Rodney Hill, 49, a Vietnam veteran and retired sergeant major turned freelance writer who has spent almost two years in court watching the Garwood proceedings. "What do we accomplish? What does it mean for the corps?"
Another retired sergeant major, Jack Murphy, who also monitored the trial, was convinced from the psychiatric testimony that any punishment should be symbolic, that Garwood had suffered enough.
In addition to the possible life sentence, Garwood faces the forfeiture of $147,000 in back pay held in escrow during his captivity. But, in spite of his conviction, Garwood may well be able to pocket his back pay.A 1961 Supreme Court ruling granted back pay to three Korean War turncoats who petitioned the Army for salaries accrued during their captivity.
The defense plans to call character witnesses next week when they ask for leniency in sentencing from the same jury that found Garwood guilty -- several of whom, asked during jury selection what they would do if an enemy guard put a gun to their heads and demanded information, replied, "I'd tell him to pull the trigger."
Garwood's attorneys, according to sources close to the defense, also plan to seek a reversal of the findings based on what they see as prejudicial comments made to the press by the military judge, Col. R. E. Switzer, who reversed his early gag rule by opening his door to reporters. The defense protested comments Switzer made to a reporter, saying he didn't see how the jury could be convinced of Garwood's innnocence unless the defendant took the stand.
Switzer countered: "I've had to weigh my openness and the public's right to know against [the possibility] that what I might say might be [portrayed] that I'm not being fair." He dismissed three charges against Garwood, including one for dersertion, soon after his run-in with Garwood's attorneys.