Sgt. Joseph Subic's return from captivity in Iran was cheered from coast to coast, like the other hostages'. He still gets invited to parades, like the others. He calls himself a super patriot. But officially, the Army has decreed that he is not a hero.
Subic, 24, picked up his last regular Army paycheck Wednesday at Fort Myer, receiving an honorable discharge about a year ahead of schedule. In May, he had became the only serviceman captured in Iran to be denied a medal. m
Subic said he had turned down an invitation to lead a Fourth of July parade in Ypsilanti, Mich., near his parents' home in Redford Township, so that he can be in the crowd at the base of the Washington Monument, listening to the Beach Boys and feeling the pounding of the national fireworks. He will fly home next week instead, to talk to his lawyer about the book he's going to write telling his side of it.
"I'm still a super patriot," he said evenly yesterday as he prepared to leave his northern Virginia home to go to a night class at George Washington University.
"I never claimed to be a hero. . . . If anybody was in my situation in Iran, they would have done the same thing. I've never considered myself un-American."
But he said he feels that perhaps his life has "been altered more than the others."
His lawyer, Gerald Davis of Detroit, echoed this, saying Subic "may have sustained the greatest damage of any hostage." He referred to the stigma of the Army's denial of the medal as the "cross he must bear."
However, Subic and Davis said the former sergeant has "no gripe" against the Army. The attorney declined comment on any possible future legal action he might want to take in Subic's behalf.
In a time of high hopes and low expectations, Americans hailed the hostages' sheer survival as a heroic act in January, when they were freed.
But when it came time to hand out the medals, the Army awards panel decided that Subic's behavior was questionable.
Among the few details known about Subic's behavior in captivity is that he was one of several hostages who appeared in Iranian films, made shortly after the takeover, condemning the American role in that country. At one point, he accused Americans at the embassy in Tehran of engaging in "espionage."
In April, Subic told a reporter that the films were faked. He also said he was badly beaten by professional interrogators and that he still has stomach pains caused in part by a bleeding ulcer. At the time of his discharge this week, he said, "I can justify what I did. . . . When somebody puts a gun to your head and pulls the trigger and nothing goes off, then they pull it again. . . . The question is, how long before you speak?"
Subic says his early discharge was in response to his request, made in April, and that he has the paperwork to prove it. However, Pentagon spokesman Maj. James Weiskopf disagreed. The Army made its own determination in the case, independent of Subic's wishes, he said, adding that the Privacy Act bars him from giving details not first released by Subic.
Subic said he is considering reenlisting as a commissioned officer in the Army reserve, with the approval of the officer who has been his boss since he returned from Iran.
He has been at Arlington Hall Station, under Capt. Godfrey Leonard, in military intelligence. The captain's recommendation letter applies such words as "maturity, integrity and determination," boost to office morale" and "excellent capability" to Subic, according to Subic's lawyer.
But Subic has withdrawn his application for the reserves, according to Weiskopf.
Subic described his seven-year millitary record before his captivity as "unblemished," and said he had received two commendation medals.
But Subic is saving his version of his captivity for his ghost-writer, whom he said is already lined up. And his lawyer says he is negotiating with publishers.
The story would start with a kid so patriotic that his high school acquaintances in Bowling Green, Ohio, labeled him "G.I. Joe." In the midst of anti-war longhairs in the mid-1970s, he would come to class with his hair in a flat-top, wearing Army fatigues and paratrooper boots, and once brought a rifle to English class for a demonstration, his classmates remembered. He was interested in police work, and liked to ride around in patrol cars.
He said yesterday that he may still decide to go into law enforcement.
His father, Joseph Subic Sr., is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who sells real estate. He and Subic's mother, Helen, moved from Bowling Green to Redford Township not long ago, and have tended to avoid talking to reporters about their son ever since he was captured.
Subic became engaged to his British girlfriend last year while he was still a captive, reportedly with the assistance of diplomats in Tehran. The two have since married. Subic refuses to discuss her, expect to say that the entire ordeal has been, for her, "terrible, but she's hanging in there."