By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
His lieutenant called him the best soldier he had ever seen. "I give him a max rating as a soldier," the lieutenant testified.
Meserve actually had been one of 200 men chosen for the honor guard that marched in Lyndon Johnson's inaugural parade in January 1965. The lieutenant was asked, "Do you think a murderer should be retained in the United States Army?"
"Not until he serves his sentence," came the answer. "Then, after rehabilitation, I think there's a difference."
"Do you think a man found guilty of murder should be punished?"
"Yes, but knowing Meserve as an individual, I would accept him back in the unit. Yes, sir."
Other extenuating circumstances were offered.
Meserve was only twenty and had already served a year in Vietnam. He had been brought up in poverty in Buffalo, New York. He was a lapsed Catholic who had only gone through the ninth grade. He had worked in a cannery before going into the service and had managed to save $5,000.
"There's one thing that stands out about this case," Meserve's lawyer told the court. "It did not occur in the United States. Indeed, there are some who might say it did not occur in civilization."
Incredibly, Meserve was found not guilty of rape but guilty of murder. His original sentence was ten years.
Clark, who joked that he had gutted the woman three times with his bayonet, was sentenced to life for murder.
Of the two brothers, one got eight years and the other, fifteen.
All the sentences were for hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The dead woman's name was Mao. Several days after she was taken away, her mother convinced a South Vietnam army unit to help her search for her daughter.
The search was unfruitful but Viet Cong agents saw the mother consorting with the enemy. They killed her a few days later. Not long after that, Mao's sister also was killed by the Viet Cong.
Someone joked to Eriksson: "Between us and Charlie, we've taken care of that whole family." Eriksson's actions were deplored by all other soldiers with whom he came in contact. They thought of him as a coward or possibly a homosexual. They believed it was pointless to ruin the careers of good soldiers.
"Why throw good lives after bad?" they kept asking Eriksson. "How could you know the dead girl really wasn't a V.C. spy?"
Eriksson had originally thought he had been assigned to a squad of psychopaths. But the reactions of his fellow soldiers in Vietnam told him that most every enlisted man he met seemed to have the same mentality.
Eriksson spent the rest of his yearlong tour in Vietnam as a carpenter and a military policeman. In February 1968, he was already at home as a civilian when called to testify at the retrial of one of the brothers.
A lawyer protested that the prisoner's rights had not been read to him properly before he was arrested. Because of that, his confession was inadmissible. He was acquitted.
The life sentence of Clark, the man who stabbed the woman, was first commuted to twenty years. Then it was reduced to eight and that made him eligible for parole after half that time. Clark told the court he was interested in going to college and majoring in philosophy or literature.
The second brother went to court on the grounds that his confession was tainted. His sentence was subsequently shortened to 22 months, and it was decided he'd already served enough time to be released.
Meserve's sentence was cut from ten years to eight. He, too, was eligible for release within half that time.
Meserve already has been out of prison for almost twenty years.
Who knows what caused this terrible gang murder?
The New Yorker's Kael cites Paul Fussell's new book, Wartime.
Fussell wrote of World War II atrocities: "The American military learned that men will inevitably go mad in battle and that no appeal to patriotism, manliness or loyalty to the group will ultimately matter."
How did it leave Eriksson, who will have to live with what he saw for the rest of his life?
"I guess that was the big thing that happened in the war for me," he said.
And what of Daniel Lang, the author of Casualties of War?
Lang was a staff writer for the New Yorker for forty years. During that time he wrote more than 100 signed pieces for it.
Lang died of leukemia in November 1980 at the age of 68. He had spent a career writing stories with unusual twists. He had been a World War II overseas correspondent for the New Yorker in Italy, France, and England.
Lang's style was to lend a sympathetic ear to people in extreme situations. For some reason they talked to him and told him fascinating offbeat stories.
He had gone to West Germany and discovered that the current generation hardly knows anything about Adolf Hitler. He had traveled to Sweden and had listened to the sad tales of men who'd deserted the army during the war. He had attended the antiwar trial of Dr. Benjamin Spock and had given a devastating account of the government's role. After Hiroshima, he had become dedicated to learning all he could about nuclear weapons.
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