About 50 years ago, I was a company clerk in the Army, stationed at a small installation, which seemed to serve mostly as a way station for those going to Vietnam and those coming back.
I have three memories of those days.
First, since I was the company clerk, I often received phone calls that asked me to pass along a message. (This was long before cellphones, and there were no phones in the barracks.)
As such, I received calls from three young women, each asking me to pass along a message to one specific private first class.
When the young women — all seniors in the local high school — found out that the PFC was two- (or three-) timing them, they turned this information over to the local prosecutor (the judge advocate — JAG — if memory serves) for the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
I then was a witness for the prosecution, mostly because I had received the phone calls.
Not content with three instances of statutory rape, the local JAG set out to pin every sex crime committed on the Army base since the arrival of the PFC — from the relatively minor crime of peeking into the shower room of the WAC barracks to the major crime of rape.
Since there was no evidence for any of the other crimes, the JAG settled on the instances of statutory rape, for which the three-timing PFC was found guilty.
In addition to a dishonorable discharge, he was sentenced to several years of making small rocks out of big ones at, I believe, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In this case, I was satisfied that military justice was indeed served. The matter proceeded with witnesses for and against and military officers serving essentially as jurors. There was no interference in the procedure.
Second memory: As the company clerk, I received daily reports about who had left and who had arrived.
Those who had recently been in Vietnam were, for the most part, a rough bunch. They were a mix of draftees and those who had signed up.
None was particularly aware of politics, and, for those who were aware, the general attitude was that they still had no idea what was going on.
They were quite biased: Most referred to the Vietnamese (North and South) as “gooks.” But all adhered to the military code, all were honorable and none had fired upon civilians. At least none admitted that they had.
They just wanted to go home and put the Vietnam War behind them. I kept track of those discharged for several years, but after a time, I lost interest and do not know how any of them turned out.
Third memory: While I was safely in the United States, with no chance of going to Vietnam, I learned about the massacre at My Lai.
In case you have forgotten, My Lai was a small village in South Vietnam, and the Army received word that it contained many North Vietnamese (Viet Cong) soldiers.
A platoon headed up by Lt. William Calley was dispatched to root out and kill North Vietnamese soldiers. Calley’s troops found no North Vietnamese soldiers, but they did find a number of women, children and old men.
They killed them all, about 500 in total. The younger women were raped and mutilated before being killed.
After an unsuccessful cover-up attempt by those in the military chain of command, Calley and 14 men in his troop were hauled before a military court and, among other things, accused of murder of civilians.
For reasons that are known only to the military court, Calley was the only one found guilty, and he was given a life sentence, later reduced to 20 years, then to 10. He was released in 1974.
The point of all these memories is that the Uniform Code of Military Justice works, that most military men are honorable (and those who aren’t are punished), and, as best as is known, no U.S. president interfered in military matters.
They let the military courts deal with these matters. No one was pardoned. Murder is murder.
By pardoning the guilty, the current U.S. president is undercutting those who served, and those who now serve, with honor.
Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair of the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.