Three of the soldiers convicted of stealing Soviet-made automatic rifles from a warehouse in Grenada as souvenirs are "in a limbo status" while their cases are appealed and are bitter that a Navy vice admiral and his staff were not punished for the same offense, the soldiers' attorneys said yesterday.
Former staff sergeant Allen Cassatt, one of at least seven lower-ranking soldiers and Marines court-martialed on theft charges, has said his son, 12, attempted suicide because of the strain of the court-martial and his father's imprisonment.
Another soldier, former sergeant Bruce C. Willard, was dismissed but not discharged from the Army and remains on a form of inactive duty, prevented from working or associating with other soldiers.
The third, former captain John E. Dorsz, spent three months in jail and is jobless while pressing his appeal that the Army violated a federal amnesty offer in prosecuting him.
Cassatt recalled that "there were rumors all over the place" at Fort Bragg, N.C., early last year about a Navy officer who had taken Soviet-made AK47s home as souvenirs.
Dorsz and others testified at their trials that Navy officers took 24 of the same guns from the same warehouse on the same night in October 1983.
It was revealed last week that Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III was "cautioned" but not punished in November 1983 after 24 AK47s were found on the plane bringing him back from Grenada.
Sixteen of the guns were labeled with the names of Metcalf and members of his staff, according to a Navy investigation. There is no direct evidence linking the 24 guns on Metcalf's plane to the ones Dorsz said he saw being taken from the warehouse.
Metcalf, who led the Grenada operation, said that the guns were to be souvenirs and that he did not know it was illegal to have them. "What is there to investigate?" he told Navy investigators.
The Navy closed the case and promoted Metcalf to deputy chief of naval operations for surface warfare. Although at least two of his staff members were named in the Navy investigation, no action was taken against them.
The Army's case against the soldiers began in November 1983 when Willard, then 32 and a helicopter maintenance crew chief with the 82nd Airborne Division, tried to sell an AK47 to an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In return for a reduced sentence, Willard agreed to name others.
After his trial and conviction last March, BATF agents said, Willard named Cassatt and Dorsz, under an agreement granting him immunity from further prosecution. Willard said the three of them had taken five AK47s from the warehouse in Grenada where 2,700 of the weapons were stored. He said he and Cassatt took one gun each and Dorsz took three.
Willard's attorney, Capt. Mark Winkler, said yesterday that he would ask today for final action on Willard's appeal. "He's getting by; he's still on active duty but he sits at home mostly. They haven't wanted him around the other troops, being a convict," Winkler said.
"Sure, he's bitter. Let's face it: The worst that will happen to that man Metcalf is he'll get a letter of reprimand, his career will not progress and he'll retire honorably. They just don't put admirals in jail," Winkler said.
But Dorsz, 28, has argued that he had returned his three weapons under a federal amnesty program and that the Army had violated the program's confidentiality provisions to prosecute him.
According to published accounts of Dorsz's trial last August, Army prosecutors argued that the amnesty only freed Dorsz from being charged with transporting the weapons to the United States and possessing them here, not from being charged with stealing them in Grenada.
The Army also argued that it had developed its case against Dorsz before Willard named him to the BATF agents. Dorsz's attorney, Capt. Robert A. Mosakowski, argued that there would have been no case without Willard. He is appealing on grounds the BATF violated the amnesty.
Mosakowski said Dorsz "is in a limbo status right now," dismissed but not discharged from the Army and jobless while awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
Cassatt, 33, a former staff sergeant with the 82nd Airborne, served four months of a nine-month jail sentence, was fined $300 a month for six months and busted to private. He resettled in Broadway, N.C., and is living in a mobile home with his wife and three sons, working in a mill producing and packaging cattle feed while looking for a job in aviation.
His son Andy, 12, seemed to feel responsible for his father's travails, Cassatt said. "He tried to hang himself in the tree house in the back yard" about two months into his father's jail term, he said.
His wife, Ann, said her other sons ran to warn her just as Andy had fastened the rope to the tree. "I started to cry and said, 'Come down! Come down!' And he started to cry, too," she said. The children have had counseling, she added.
"If they can forgive this Metcalf fellow, why can't they forgive me?" asked Cassatt. "I'm not out for vengeance. I would like some restitution. I don't have any hatred for the military."
There is some hard feeling among the three men, and their accounts of the event are different. Cassatt said he only followed orders, loading the rifles the others gave him into a truck outside the warehouse. He said he did not know they were being brought back to the United States and was surprised to find that Dorsz had put one "as a gift" into the back of his truck at the airport at Fort Bragg.
Willard testified that the guns were Dorsz's idea but only after an officer at the warehouse urged them to take some bayonets. Dorsz said Willard was the instigator, but that the Navy people were taking out so many rifles that five didn't seem a lot.
"It really doesn't seem that much different" from the Metcalf case, said Cassatt's attorney, Maj. Douglas Fletcher.
"They all got weapons from the warehouse and brought them back . . . . It does make the disparity in treatment seem rather unusual," Fletcher said.
The Pentagon has refused to comment on the cases, although an Army spokesman has said, "The Army did what it felt was right."