The same jury of five Marine officers that found Pfc. Robert Garwood guilty of collaborating with the enemy while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam today reduced his rank to private, forced him to forfeit some pay and allowances, and drummed him out of the Corps with a dishonorable discharge.
But the jury of Vietnam veterans -- which reached the verdict after only an hour of deliberation and after hearing his defense attorney read an eight-paragraph statement from Garwood pleading for mercy -- did not sentence Garwood to prison. He had faced a possible life term.
The sentence will not go into effect until completion of an automatic military appeal.
Thus the 34-year-old Marine, the first and probably only official American traitor from the Vietnam war, has been offered the first freedom that presumably he has known since he was captured by the Viet Cong on a Danang beach in 1965.
"No jail!" came the whisper from an elated, tearful Donna Long, a POW activist and Vietnam veteran's widow who took Garwood into her home months ago. Thursday she had begged the jury for mercy, acknowledging that she has fallen in love with Garwood, a 10th-grade high school dropout from Adams, Ind., and that they hope to marry and make a life together with her two sons.
The sentence will be appealed first to the base commander at Camp Lejeune, N.C., then the Navy Court of Review and on to the U.S. Military Court of Appeals and even the Supreme Court, say defense lawyers. Col. R. E. Switzer, the military judge, will rule Tuesday on defense motions to overturn the verdict.
But today's sentence may be a sign that one tragic chapter from a turbulent war, involving perhaps the longest, most complex court-martial in military history, at last has been closed in the cramped military courtroom with a sentence more redolent of symbolism than punishment, and packing more sound than fury.
"Bobby Garwood is quite relieved the sentence did not include any confinement," said chief defense attorney John Lowe. "Donna Long and her two sons are also relieved . . . Basically [Garwood] has already had enough."
After the jury filed out of the courtroom, Garwood turned and smiled slightly at Donna Long. He then bowed his head and closed his eyes for several seconds. Asked before he slipped out the back of the room how he felt, Garwood said, "It's been a long time."
Garwood's attorneys have filed a suit in the U.S. Military Court of Claims seeking back pay of about $147,000 that accrued during his 14 years in Vietnam. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that Korean turncoats were entitled to back pay earned in captivity, and Judge Switzer said that the forfeiture of pay in Garwood's case applies only to the time between his conviction a week ago Thursday and today's sentencing.
Garwood ended months of silence today by pleading for mercy in a statement read to the court by his military counsel, Capt. Lewis Olshin. In that statement, Garwood said he accepted "as honest and sincere" the testimony of other POWs, and said he did not know what happened to him in Vietnam.
The jury found him guilty of collaborating with the enemy -- other POWs had testified that he wore the Viet Cong uniform, carried an AK47 assault rifle, interrogated fellow Americans and received favorable treatment while his fellow POWs suffered starvation, malnutrition and torture -- and of assaulting a fellow prisoner. But defense attorneys claim Garwood was not responsible for his actions, that he had been tortured, brainwashed and driven insane by his captors.
"He does not know how to explain what occurred in Vietnam 14 years ago, and he does not know what anyone can say to explain the 14 years he erased from his life in Vietnam," said Olshin. "He knows the experience he had in Vietnam will live with him forever and, together with his conviction, will leave marks upon him for the rest of his life."
But the junior prosecutor, Teresa Wright, not only demanded that Garwood be drummed out of the Corps and forfeit all back pay, but receive "substantial punishment."
As she talked, recounting how Garwood cared only for his own survival while fellow POWs lived in prison camp huts "surrounded by mud, vermin and their own defecation," she emptied brass BBs onto a scale -- "the scale of justice," she called it. As the pellets pinged onto the tray, the scale became heavily weighted against Garwood.
"No one ever promised Robert Garwood a rose garden," she said.
The judge rejected a defense motion for mistrial based on her "inflammatory, prejudicial" statements.
Garwood's chief attorney, Lowe, told the jury that in seeking a standard of toughness to apply to Garwood, it should remember that amnesty was granted to "all those turkeys who went to Sweden and Canada." Garwood, at least for a time, went to war.
"Bobby Garwood has paid more for what he has not done than anybody can reasonably expect a man to do," said Lowe. Garwood, he said, has lost "his health, his mind."
Then, addressing the standards applied to American POWs in Vietnam whose charges of misconduct were dropped after they came home, along with the pardons granted to thousands of draft dodgers, Lowe reminded the Marine jurors that the draft evaders "didn't even go to Vietnam. They didn't spend 14 years in hell."
In setting Garwood free, the Marine jury seemed to agree with the notion of burying a very confusing war and granting Garwood's request that he be allowed to begin a new life, in his words to the jury, "from the bottom of the heap."