“Desertion is the army’s dirty little secret. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, more than 20,000 American soldiers have given up the fight. Most of them disappear while at home on leave, fading into a network of family and friends, and the army does not typically chase them down.” Wil S. Hylton
It seems gone are the days when a soldier deserted, he would be shot. Just like the quote above, desertion has become normal in the military.
I equate it to the issue over homosexuals in the military. We may hurt their feelings if we tell them they can’t be in the Army and we may cause strife if we punish deserters. After all, war is bad.
Wait a second!
Okay, I could have a bit of understanding if the soldier was drafted. But it has been years since the last draft. So how can we defend a person who voluntarily joined the Army and is collecting a check and suddenly decides he/she wants to “shirk” the contract?
When they took the job, they knew they may be deployed to a war zone.
I believe you see my point…
But enough of my opinion.
In today’s post, we are going to examine my opinion of the top 10 most well known Army deserters. If you disagree with my opinion, feel free to share your opinion in the comment section at the end.
I am starting with #10 and working up to #1.
#10: Camilo Mejía
A Nicaraguan by birth, Camilo went to school at the University of Miami and was a member of the Army National Guard. Camilo was deployed to Iraq for 6 months and was given a furlough to deal with issues around his Lawful Permanent Resident. When it was cleared up, Camilo did not return to duty. He deserted.
On May 21, 2004, Mejía was convicted of desertion by a military jury and sentenced to one year confinement, reduction to the rank of Private, and a Bad Conduct Discharge.
#9: Jeremy Hinzman
Jeremy joined the Army in 2001 and became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. Somewhere during the time, he suddenly became a conscientious objector and made attempts to get non-combat status but was denied. So before he was deployed to Iraq, Jeremy made his way as a refugee into Canada. As far as I can tell, Jeremy has been given asylum in Canada and has not been penalized for desertion.
#8: Andy Barrie
Now retired, Andy is known for being a radio announcer in Toronto, Canada. American by birth, Andy was drafted to Vietnam and immediately claimed conscientious objector status. He was trained as a combat medic but when orders came to ship out to Vietnam, Andy shipped out to Canada instead. Never charged, he was given a general discharge from the Army and became a Canadian citizen.
#7: Jack Todd
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Jack is a sports columnist for the Montreal Gazette. Now a Canadian citizen, Jack deserted from the U.S. Army to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Jack is a great writer and has published several books.
#6: Robin Long
Robin enlisted in 2003 and believed he was serving his country well. But somehow he suddenly changed his perspective about Iraq and when given orders in 2005 that he would be deployed to Iraq, Long deserted and went to Canada. Canada extradited Robin and he was court-martialed in 2008. Robin was given a sentence of 15 months in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.
#5: Samuel Clemons
You may not recognize his real name but his pen name is Mark Twain and yes, the writer of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn deserted from the Army. The Confederate Army.
Twain had briefly enlisted with a group of others and that lasted about 2 weeks when he deserted and went to Nevada.
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#4: Robert Bales
While some would say this is not a case of desertion, I strongly disagree!
Stationed in Afghanistan, Bales deserted his post where he was base security and in a drunken rage, Bales murdered 16 Afghan civilians, many children. This was in a village near the camp.
So he deserted his security position to murder.
Bales is now doing life in prison with no opportunity to parole.
#3: Bowe Bergdahl
This ex soldier has been in the news a lot recently… Why? Because no prison time.
The guy deserted and was captured by the Taliban and was released in a “swap” of prisoners. Bergdahl was sentenced to be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank to private, and fined $1,000 per month from his pay for ten months, with no prison time.
#2: George Armstrong Custer
This was an especially surprising desertion. It was well after the Civil War and Custer was adamant at that time about immediately killing any and all deserters.
What happened is Custer abandoned his post for love. He wanted to see his wife. Some would say this wasn’t desertion, but the fact is, it was.
He was arrested and suspended for 1 year, but because of his skills, Major General Sheridan was able to reduce the 1 year suspension so Custer could carry on in the Indian campaigns.
#1: Eddie Slovik
He has the unique and sad distinction of being the only soldier court-martialed and executed for desertion since the American Civil War.
It was World War II and 49 others had been also sentenced to death for desertion but the only one executed was Eddie.
This is what Eddie Slovik wrote on a note that ultimately led to his being shot by a firing squad:
I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move. I stayed there in my fox hole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed over night at a French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over to the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to American M.P. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I’d run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I’LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE.
— Signed Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik A.S.N. 36896415
Desertion at one time was a major crime in the eyes of the military. It seems standards have been lessened and I really don’t know if I agree with that. Especially when the Army is in volunteer mode. If it was a draft situation, I can have a bit more understanding, but when a soldier signs up knowing the possibilities, desertion is bullshit.
Just my opinion… What’s yours?
Please post all comments below and thanks for stopping by.
About The Author
Greg Boudonck is a full time freelance writer and the author of over 50 books. He served in the United States Army in the early 1980’s and enjoys writing about military subjects. You can see Greg’s books on Amazon by searching his name and you can also visit his website at Lancerlife.com.