Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 10, 1975 · Page 124
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 124

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 10, 1975
Page 124
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Page 124 article text (OCR)

The Tiller family, two of whose sons fled the Vietnam draft and still live in Canada, moved from Dante, Va., Open to Discussion WeforSita by George Michaelson WASHINGTON, D.C. S ometime next month the Presidential Clemency Board expects to complete its remaining batch of Vietnam amnesty cases, and close up shop. "All in all, the President's program allowing for 'earned reentry 1 has been a mixed success," says Charles E. Goodell, the former New York Senator who~heads the board. "Only 23,000 applied, but I personally feel we have gone some distance towards easing the discord in this, country caused by the Vietnam war." Goodell may be right, but the fact remains that of the 124,000 men covered by President Ford's program, more than 100,000 have yet to ask for clemency. And the question now being raised, in Congress and elsewhere, is what should be done about it Should these men be told, "Too bad, if s too late"? Should the program of conditional, earned reentry (which calls for, among other things, up to 24 months of alternate, civilian service to the country) be reopened? Or, is a blanket, unconditional amnesty the answer? Won't compromise To one mother, at least, the answer is painfully clear. Says Mrs. Virginia Jones, whose son is one of several thousand fugitives who are still in Canada: "I just can't accept that my son has to go on living in exile. He's been away for five years, and God knows, he's paid,.his price for refusing the draft. He should to Levittown, N.Y., to escape harassment. Another son, not shown in photo, chose to remain in Virginia. be allowed to come home to America now, questions asked--just like the Vietnamese refugees we let in so freely. I say there should be an unconditional amnesty." To others, any thought of unconditional amnesty--or any further clemency, for that matter--is anathema. Argues Cooper Holt, executive director of the Washington office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars: 'Those guys committed a .crime, and hell, they ought to pay for it. Look, 56,000 American men lost their lives in Vietnam. If we Jet off the hook any'more of that bunch who refused to serve, we'll be making an utter mockery of those who died, and everything they stood for." Charles Goodell, who heads the clemency program for Vietnam war evaders. It was 'in an effort to strike some balance between these two positions, that "President Ford last September instituted his clemency program--designed, in his words, to "reject amnesty, and reject revenge." The plan, administered by a specially appointed Presidential Clemency Board, as well as the Justice and Defense Departments, was aimed at providing clemency for draft evaders (13,000), and deserters still officially at large (10,000); most of these men were either living abroad, principally in Canada, or underground in the U.S. Plan outline It also included 101,000 veterans who had already been released from the military with punitive or undesirable discharges for having gone AWOL, deserted, or missed a troop movement; these latter were "above ground" in the U.S., where their bad discharges made it difficult for them to get jobs. (Not included in the President's program were some 5000 men who had taken up citizenship in other-countries, and many thousands of veterans whose bad discharges were due to such offenses as refusal to obey orders, disrespect, disloyalty, etc.) Basically, the plan offered a chance for "earned reentry" into the American mainstream. In exchange for signing a loyalty oath, and performing-- if asked --up to 24 months of alternate service (in a hospital, church, school, etc.), the applicant would receive a Presidential pardon and, for deserters, the bad discharge would be upgraded to the new category of "clemency discharge." On paper, the program may have been an excellent one. But what now becomes clear is that, at best, it has been a "mixed success." True, for some of the young men who had been living abroad or underground in the U1S., it was a welcome chance to go home again. Also, 300 men in military or civilian jails were set free. Wanted no punishment However, for many others the "conditional" amnesty program seemed like a punishment, and they wanted no part of it. Says John Colhoun', a draft evader who has lived in Toronto since 1970: "If the Vietnam war was a mistake and the U.S. had no business being there, why should we have been made to come back like criminals, say we were wrong, arid wind up being sentenced t to some menial job?" Thus, when the deadline for- clemency applications passed at the end of March, fewer than 20 per cent of - those eligible had actually applied. As for those who did apply, of the 60 per cent who were asked to do alternate service, most have refused to take the jobs offered them. (The government

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