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Deserter Was Tired of Running

Ernest Johnson Jr. says the Vietnam War was a mistake and he should not be punished.

January 17, 2006|From Associated Press

FORT WORTH — A man who deserted the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War has been arrested after more than 36 years on the lam.

Ernest Johnson Jr. left Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1969 because he opposed the war. Vietnam was "a mistake from day one," he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from jail Friday.

Johnson, 55, spent the next three decades drifting between California, Oregon, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan and Texas, where he was living with his girlfriend in Fort Worth when officials arrested him Thursday.

Johnson, who had been going by his mother's maiden name of McQueen, was being held without bail. A decision was pending on whether he would be face court-martial in North Carolina.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in the brig and be dishonorably discharged, a Marine Corps spokesman told the newspaper.

Johnson said he did not believe he should be punished: "I'm not a criminal. I'm not a crook. I've never had one violent offense."

But he said he felt relieved by his arrest. "They were hot on my tail a few times," said Johnson, who said he had prostate cancer and suffered from knee and shoulder ailments. "I could have run this time, but I said, 'No, my running days are over.' "

Johnson married twice and has two children, but said he never told his families he had deserted.

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