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Marines Won't Court-Martial 65-Year-Old Held as a Deserter

Jerry Texiero had been charged with fleeing Camp Pendleton in 1965 to avoid Vietnam duty. He is to receive an other-than-honorable discharge.

January 12, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps announced Wednesday that a 65-year-old Florida man being held on a charge of deserting from Camp Pendleton in 1965 had been released from the brig at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and would be discharged without a court-martial.

Marine officials had been pondering what to do with Jerry Texiero, who had deserted to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

Texiero, who has lived under a false name in Tarpon Springs, Fla., was taken into Marine custody last year after an FBI fingerprint match discovered the desertion warrant from four decades ago.

A Camp Lejeune spokesman said that Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, commanding general at Camp Lejeune, had decided to grant a discharge to Texiero, who was a corporal when he deserted.

As base commander, Dickerson has the authority to order the case closed.

New York-based Citizen Soldier, an antiwar group that has represented Texiero, said he would be granted an other-than-honorable discharge. The same kind of discharge has been given to a handful of Vietnam deserters who have come to the Marine Corps' attention in recent years.

"Their scheme to prosecute Jerry as a way to warn young Marines in Iraq today that they will be vigorously pursued if they desert has failed," said Citizen Soldier Director Tod Ensign.

Marine Corps officials have said that Texiero's case was being handled routinely and was not meant to send any message to current Marines.

Desertion can be punished by up to five years in prison if the action is determined to have been a way to avoid hazardous duty.

Marine Corps officials also had considered reinstating a theft charge against Texiero but did not. After he deserted in 1965, officials had charged him with stealing $5,400 worth of goods from the post exchange at the Marine base in Barstow.

Texiero had pleaded no contest to fraud charges involving the sale of classic cars in the mid-1990s. He was jailed in August for a probation violation, and when he was released in December the Marines took him into custody and sent him to the brig at Camp Lejeune. His lawyers said he had been losing weight and becoming weak but was being treated as a hero by other prisoners.

More than 10,000 U.S. military personnel deserted during the Vietnam War. President Ford issued a pardon for all of those who turned themselves in, but the offer expired in 1975.

The Texiero case showed that antagonisms from the Vietnam War are easily rekindled. The Citizen Soldier activists had planned to argue in court that the Vietnam War was illegal, and thus Texiero's desertion was justified.

On the other hand, Internet chat rooms frequented by former Marines were rife with scalding comments about Texiero.

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