WEST RUTLAND, Vt. — Like many young Americans, Douglas Beane did not want to go to Vietnam. But that is where the Marines sent him in 1968, and except for a brief trip back that same year for his grandmother's funeral, he didn't return home until last month.
The intervening years became a bizarre odyssey, one that finally came to an end when he turned himself in to face charges of deserting, escaping from custody, dealing on the black market and threatening to kill a fellow Marine.
Beane's case was one of 185 unresolved Marine desertions from Vietnam. It is now the raw material for a book or script, or at least that is what an agent for Beane hopes.
Within weeks of arriving in Vietnam, Beane said later in interviews, he began smoking marijuana. He said he witnessed a mini-massacre in his camp when a crazed Marine killed two comrades, seriously wounded three others and then pointed a machine gun at him. He dealt openly on the currency black market, he said, before he fled his battalion and fell in with deserters in Saigon.
Fugitive in Australia
He was captured by military police, but escaped from Vietnam and fled to Australia, where, under false names, he roamed the countryside for 17 years and fathered nine children with four women.
Beane, now 40, flew home on June 8, seeking to end his life on the run and to visit his ailing father. He was handcuffed at Los Angeles International Airport and taken to Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va. He was reissued a uniform, given two haircuts and sent to a maximum-security cell. Two weeks later, Beane admitted to all charges and received an other-than-honorable discharge "for the good of the Marine Corps."
Still, Beane, who served all but two days of his tour in Vietnam, said he does not consider himself a deserter. "As far as I'm concerned, I did my time there. . . . I've suffered enormously for 17 years. I wasn't living a standard life. I was in exile. I was a man without a country. It was hell."
Today, Beane's face is weathered and his closely cropped hair is thinning, with specks of gray at the temples.
Hired Publicity Agent
The morning after he was released from Quantico, he was met at his home here by a New York agent, Joseph Singer, who offered to negotiate book, film and promotional rights to Beane's story for a 15% fee. Beane said he agreed after Singer promised to advance him air fare from Australia for his pregnant wife and two children.
Beane's story is substantiated by an inch-thick military investigative package that was given to him when he was released, Singer said.
Few people who knew Douglas Gary Beane as a youth in Rochester, Vt., ever imagined there would be public interest in his life story. Friends and classmates knew him as a loner who enjoyed hunting, fishing and calling out to bears at his parents' rustic cottage.
He had no close friends among the Rochester High School Class of '65. Among the nine boys and five girls, he was the only one who did not attend the senior graduation party and did not go on to college.
In April, 1968, Beane was sent to Vietnam as a cook for a maintenance battalion at an airstrip in Da Nang. Within several months, Beane said, he began to exchange military scrip for U.S. currency, which was against military rules. Another Marine turned him in and Beane threatened to kill him in retaliation, although he now says he wasn't serious.
In April, 1969, facing charges including possession of U.S. currency and threatening to kill a fellow Marine, Beane obtained a forged Defense Department civilian identification card and boarded an Air Vietnam flight to Saigon.
Hid Out in Saigon
"It was just magical," Beane said of his initial escape. After landing in Saigon, he recalled: "I caught a taxi driver and asked, 'Where am I going to stay tonight?' I didn't know what I was going to do. He took me to this hotel, and who should I meet but a deserter who had been on the run for more than a year."
In Saigon, Beane said, he was introduced to a black-market syndicate run by Vietnamese who used U.S. servicemen to exchange military scrip for money orders, which were sold in turn to wealthy Vietnamese preparing to flee the country. One day, Beane said, he used $1,400 in military scrip to purchase enough money orders to earn $2,800.
Nine months later, Beane was captured in Dalat, a remote mountain resort above Saigon. Security was so lax at the military police station, Beane said, that he dashed through an unlocked door, only to be recaptured after two days hiding under a bush.
Facing new, more serious charges--of deserting and escaping custody--Beane staged a suicide attempt in an effort to get a transfer to a minimum-security psychiatric ward. He said he took a three-inch-long, U-shaped wire from a prison toilet, put it on buttered bread and swallowed it. He was returned to Da Nang and hospitalized as a suicide risk.
Disguised as Aviator