Readers Write: Bergdahl decision defies common sense

The Island Now

My head exploded when I read this headline in The New York Times: “Bergdahl Avoids Prison Sentence in Afghanistan Desertion Case.”

“A military judge ruled that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his military base in Afghanistan in 2009 leading to five years of Taliban captivity, shouldn’t receive prison time.” [WSJ – 11/4/17]

Are you kidding me?

“The judge, Col. Jefferey Nance, didn’t explain the reason behind the sentence as he delivered his ruling in a Fort Bragg, N.C. courtroom.”

This deserter could have received a life sentence. The military prosecutor requested 14 years in prison and this colonel let him off scot free! Why?

This from The New York Times on 11/7/17: “…a military judge decision to let the U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with a slap on the wrist for desertion in in Afghanistan in 2009. But those most outraged by the wrist slap are other members of the armed services who fear the damage to military discipline. Bergdahl deserted on the battlefield in a forward post – the worst betrayal you can make against your fellow soldiers…”

The article continued: “Members of Bergdahl’s unit were killed or maimed when they were sent to search for him…The court-martial sentence must be demoralizing to those who do their duty and risk their lives without fanfare.”

You think?

How many of you remember the name Eddie Slovik or ever heard of him? He was born on 2118/20 and died on 1/31/45.

He was a private during WWII. And died in France.

Not from action from the enemy. He was court-martialed and the only soldier in WWII executed for desertion since the Civil War. I bet he would have loved to have Col. Nance at his court-martial! In WWII there were 1.7 million courts-martial held…. 21,000 soldiers were given varying sentences for desertion with 49 given the death sentence, but Sloviks’, I repeat, was the only one carried out. I wonder who he had defending him?

Back to Ft. Bragg, N.C. almost 60 years ago. Iwas out of college one year and was assigned to the 41st Ordnance Company.

I was a 2nd Lt. Additional duties included commanding an eight man unit, the 180 Ordnance Detachment. We traveled the Third Army area in the south measuring the muzzle velocity of artillery weapons.

I was also assigned to the IG inspection team, with two talented sergeants,to evaluate and rate various units on their weapons and vehicles status.

But, then come the shock! I was relieved of all these duties and was told that I would spend all my time as the defense attorney for a private who had gone AWOL. A defense attorney, who has an engineering degree, in a SpecialCourt-Martial!

After discussing his predicament with the private E-2, we decided to plead guilty to the AWOL charge, but would use the reason he went AWOL in the first place.

It was called extenuating and mitigating circumstances. And they are as follows.

His young wife was pregnant..he had financial problems…his wife lost the baby…he had problems with his father-in-law…he was arrested by the Atlanta police…they notified Ft.Bragg who sent M.P.’s to pick him up…on the way back, he jumped the train…went back to Atlanta…arrested again…and this time M.P.’s got him back to Ft.Bragg where I then met him in the brig.

I saved all the paper work on this case for 57 years.

He planned to return to base after he found civilian work and save money. At one point in the trial I asked him this: “How much food did you have in the trailer for you and your wife?” His answer was “One pound of beans.” He was hurting on many levels.

His company commander stated on 3 January 1961 that “In my opinion he should be eliminated from the service.”

He was.

Bergdahl had outside civilian attorneys. I wonder who paid them?

I don’t know if in the 1960s, civilians could even interfere in military matters. The private I defended did not have any money to hire anyone.

I would love to know why the colonel did not give Bergdahl even one day in prison.

I hope the commanding general at Ft. Bragg has the authority to overrule this disgusting decision by the colonel.


John Messina

East Williston

P.S. I wonder if the civilian attorneys defending Bergdahl have ever served in our military?

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