Dear YANK:

It has been said that the military prisoner may become the forgotten soldier. Now we’re not considering the man who is a prisoner for other than a military or minor offense. Those who have committed felonies will naturally serve their time, and the Dishonorable Discharge (DD) will just give them another excuse for committing a felony.

But how about the military offenders in Rehabilitation Centers and Disciplinary Barracks who are going to be released sooner or later with DDs? More than half of the soldiers who receive a General Court Martial are convicted for being absent without leave (AWOL). These general prisoners along with others convicted because of disobeying a direct order, refusing to obey a direct order, insubordination, and other military offenses are often men like ourselves who have just reached the breaking point (and we all have one) and solved their troubles by taking off or becoming antagonistic to authority.

pow afrika korps dishonorable discharge

Many have served in combat units overseas for several years, and some are old Army men with many years of good service behind them plus several honorable discharges. These men for the most part want to be restored to duty and get an honorable discharge; they’ve been soldiers and want to “soldier out.” Many will get the yellow Dishonorable Discharge regardless of their intentions and in some cases their excellent personal qualifications and past accomplishments.

When a man gets out of a penitentiary he is not given a discharge or piece of paper that will brand him for life. Released from such institution with an indeterminate sentence, he is placed in a job before he leaves the gates. Even when a man serves his full time most institutions will try to place him.

But the DD seems to many a permanent branding of an individual. It almost precludes that man from ever becoming a good citizen or productive worker again. These men when discharged have served their time and paid their debt to society, but in their own words, “Why should we be penalized for the rest of our lives?” And when jobs get tough they know they will not be able to compete when asked to present their discharge. Furthermore, many will be afraid to face their families and friends again. And in some communities the DD’d veteran will be picked up on suspicion whenever any offenses are committed and the culprit not immediately apprehended.

Here are some of the ideas they have when they return to civilian life with a DD. Perhaps they sound exaggerated or even facetious, but these men mean what they say.

“I’m going to get a blackjack and look for a guy with a bulging pocket of green folding stuff.” This is from a blond kid of 19 who has no past record, but was convicted of being AWOL.

Another says, “I think I’ll join the Russian Army, and then when I visit the USA no one will wonder if I have an honorable discharge or DD.”

Another man of 39 years of age with overseas service states, “I’m going to Panama and see what’s doing there.”

Others mention unlawful pursuits of one kind or another. But underneath it all there is a sincerity and concern over being branded for life.

It is safe to assume that there will be a good many thousands of DDs floating around the country after the Army is demobilized. They can become solid dynamic nuclei for gangs, or they can become public charges of one kind or another. Already newspapers are mentioning the number that are being arrested for civilian offenses.

I conduct sessions in group psychotherapy under the supervision of a psychiatrist, where general prisoners taking part in the rehabilitation program at the center in Turlock, Calif., can say practically anything they want within natural limits as long as names aren’t used and they speak one at a time.

Do they have a point? What would you do if given a DD?

—Pfc. Clifford A. Straus

—Turlock, Calif.

For More Information on the Dishonorable Discharge See:

A Dishonorable Discharge: A Novel of Love and War

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  • What a tough subject. Back in WWII (& post) times, I believe things were handled more severely, with “degrees” of wrongs committed mixed together in one group. I’m a Vietnam combat vet; things were still “rough” in my days of service. Nowadays, it seems as if one can basically “quit” the military if it doesn’t suit him/her, and with little punishment (slap on the wrist?). BCs, GDs, etc. don’t carry the scarlet letter of shame today that they once did. Most of American society doesn’t even care about such stuff. It’s a complicated situation. I personally believe the WWII/Korean era (& maybe Vietnam) were perhaps too harsh, while today’s military is substandard in many areas, including being too lenient in the matter of discharges. Just my two cents.

    Michael Helms
    (0311) E/2/4 3rdMarDiv
    Vietnam, 1967-68

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