The Navy has begun what Secretary John Lehman says will be a full-dress investigation of a series of disciplinary incidents -- a sailor's death while in custody, alleged beatings in the brig, drug trafficking and other problems -- aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger.
The incidents have raised questions about conditions aboard Navy ships in general. All the armed services in recent years; they say these are reflections of similar problems in society as a whole. In some ways these problems have been most serious for the Navy, whose men are often confined on ships at sea for long periods.Navy leaders have told lawmakers that the Ranger incidents are being investigated in part to determine if they represent a pattern that demands correction.
Though an inquiry has been ordered, the Navy does not dispute that these things have occurred on the Ranger:
Airman Recruit Paul A. Trerice, of Algonac, Mich., a husky 21-year-old who was frequently in trouble with his superiors aboard ship, died suddenly on April 14 after a short time in the Ranger's brig on bread and water. The Navy listed the cause of death as heat stroke.
The sailor's organs and brain were removed during the Navy autopsy. While the Navy described their removal as a routine procedure, Dr. Werner Spitz, the Wayne County, Mich., medical examiner, said the missing organs handicapped the autopsy he did for the family. But Spitz said some physicans remove the organs and thus he attached no special significance to the Navy action.
Trerice became abusive in the Ranger's correctional custody unit and had to be subdued in a struggle shortly before his death.
Spitz said the bruises and cuts on Trerice's body indicated "a substantial struggle" had taken place but not a beating. The Navy said Trerice had taken a shower shortly before the struggle, complained he was not feeling well and was getting ready to go to the sick bay when he suddenly became abusive and had to be subdued. He collapsed during the struggle and was pronounced dead at the hospital in Subic Bay, the Philippines, where the Ranger was docked at the time.
The buying and selling of marijuana on the Ranger reached the point that a Navy investigator wsa able to arrange and observe a purchase (called a controlled buy) and arrest two of the sailors involved.
At least one Marine was punished for beating a prisoner under his control in the ship's brig.
Cdr. Michael Sherman, the Navy's designated spokesman for questions about the Ranger, and Capt. William J. Legg, judge advocate for the commander of naval air forces in the Pacific, confirmed those incidents in response to queries.
Legg disputed, however, accounts by two other sailors who say they were beaten in the Rangerhs brig. Legg said the claims of sailors Gregory J. Girard and Raymond R. Ramsey had been investigated and found to be "unsubstantiated." But the sailors' civilian lawyer, William G. Blasdel Jr. of Philadelphia, has offered to have his clients take polygraph tests.
In a sworn statement Blasdel furnished The Washington Post, Girard, who has been arrested on drug charges, said this is what happened to him at the hands of two Marines right after he was taken to the ship's brig on Dec. 28:
"I was assaulted by [names deleted by The Post] upon arrival. I was kicked by [name deleted] on the right side of the hip which left a scruffed burn. I was kicked through hatches. I was punched four times in the stomach and four times in the kidneys. I threw up blood later that night. Lance Corporal [name deleted] placed two hands on my throat and applied pressure so that I could not speak."
In another sworn statement supplied by Blasdel, Ramsay, also arrested on drug charges, said this is what a Marine did to him right after he was put in the Ranger's brig:
"I was thrown against the wall and, you may say, tested. He was slapping my face and telling me to go ahead and raise my hands above my waist so he could beat the s--- out of me. I was taken back to cell four and thrown against the wall, and he grabbed me around my throat and called me a pussy and a faggot and to go ahead and raise my hands so he could beat the s--- out of me. I said, 'No, lance corporal.' Then he hit me three times in the stomach and called me a pussy.
"He then told me to get up against the wall. And my toes weren't touching so he stepped on them and told me to move them while he left his foot on them."
A third sailor, Neil Wayne Hodgson Jr. of Grosse Point Farms, Mich., wrote Blasdel that "my ear drum is ruptured as a result of being physically abused in the brig on the Ranger. I would like to attend a court of law and testify [about] what has taken place in the brig on the USS Ranger . . . ."
Navy legal officer, Legg, when asked about Hodgson's allegations, said that the Marine involved had been punished.
Navy officers not involved with the Ranger case said that the long deployments to the Persian Gulf of undermanned and overworked ships and crews have aggrevated discipline problems.