THE LEAKING COOK

It was a real pissin' contest

{Please note: this "war story" will not be complete if you miss the amazing
 "after the fact" information that was uncovered 43 years later shown at the end}

I have called it "Camp Vietnam" on many occasions.  It was an extended (very extended)  "live-fire exercise" in the field.  Instead of an "all out" conflict, it was known as a "limited conflict".   Consequently, there was a lot of "stateside BS" brought over to Vietnam.  I'm sure many of us can relate.  One example was having Payroll Officers count out thousands of pieces of "monopoly money" (MPC), fly out to the troops in the field, and issue same.   {Of course, one trip crossing a stream and the soldier had a pocket full of mush.  But...that's another story.}

Vietnam occurred in the days before the "law and order" of the UCMJ was disassembled or greatly modified to barely a shadow of its origins.  Officers were appointed as Trial Counsel and Defense Counsel by a simple set of orders.  As such, you may have no law degree or even legal training, but you were on orders to perform to the best of your ability as provided by the UCMJ.  Back in the States, it was typical for a  new Lieutenant to be appointed as Defense Counsel when a service member's name failed to appear on DA-Form 1, the morning roll call, and the accused was charged as AWOL.  Although this was primarily an administrative event (very hard to mount a defense for AWOLs), it usually went before a special court-martial and was over in a flash.  I had several of these cases under my belt back in my days in the Basic Combat Training (BCT) companies.  The best you could do was to plead "mitigating circumstances" after the guilty verdict.  I had some luck with that; on more than one occasion, there was a story behind the man going AWOL that was not apparent by simply reading his roll call absence into the record and the Trial Counsel making a slam-dunk case.  And even that is another story.

But....this was Vietnam.  This case was a general  court-martial {actually, it was a "special court-martial", see below}.  A cook {actually, it was a Wire Section Chief, see below also} was charged with sleeping on guard duty on the brigade base perimeter.  It was a major offense in wartime; you could be executed.  Serious stuff.

My good friend Lt Frank Herbick, the Bn S-1, put me on orders as the Trial Counsel for this case.  Oh, boy...I vigorously protested...I wanted no part of this.  I had a major responsibility as the XO of Alpha Battery...who had time to leave the field and get involved with this "stateside" stuff?  But Frank didn't budge and I was assigned.   Looking back, he probably didn't have a lot of officers to choose from.  So I got the job.

The first task, of course, is to find out what the hell this thing was all about.   Then, it was interviews, interviews, and more interviews.  I spoke with the accused...the cook {Wire Section Chief assigned to KP}...and found him to be congenial; he was not the type to be derelict in his duty, careless, negligent and not unaware of the seriousness of the charge.   Hmmm...a red flag here.  I spoke with the other men assigned to the rotation of the guard on the night in question.   They, too, were good, responsible men.  

My key witness against the accused was going to be the man on guard duty before him....the one who was supposed to rouse the cook and insure that he was awake and alert.  Until that was achieved, his duty was not complete and he was not relieved of his assignment on guard.   Okay...it's pretty clear what's going to happen here...the Defense Counsel is going to strongly assert that the outgoing guard did not insure his replacement was alert and ready for duty.  My job was to secure definite testimony from the outgoing guard that he did assure the cook was awake and alert.   Well, this could turn into an ugly battle of "one word against another's word".

Cutting to the chase here, my "key witness" testimony turned out to be convincing and compelling in the strangest manner ever.  It is why I have special memory of this "war story".  In court, the guard going off duty testified that the cook arose, stood up, and took a leak off the top of the perimeter bunker while he was inside the bunker.

The cook was found guilty.   But the story doesn't end here.   I need to address the "red flag".  Turns out that this cook had already pulled a full duty shift.  He should never have been assigned to guard duty that same night in the first place, especially when you have a roster full of base support personnel.  There was trouble between this cook and the Mess Sergeant.  It was not uncommon for military supervisors to use additional duties and assignments as "punishment", but this case crosses the line.  I spoke privately with the senior officer of the court-martial and explained the situation.  It was my recommendation that the cook receive the least possible punishment.  There was an abuse of authority occurring here.

Final note: my "opponent" as Defense Counsel was a Capt Hamilton {actually, it was Captain Maxwell L. Haydon, see below}.   A little short dude who was extremely pissed about losing the case on his client "taking a leak" and even more pissed about losing the case to a Lieutenant.

You might even say: "The whole thing was a real pissing contest!"


Lt Dennis Dauphin

FOOTNOTE!
WITH GREAT THANKS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO LT PATRICK J. KASPERBAUER, BELOW ARE THE ACTUAL ORDERS FOR THE COURT-MARTIAL OF SP4 ERNESTO RODRIGUEZ.  Corrections to my "War Story" are noted in red parentheses.

FOOTNOTE #2
WITH GREAT THANKS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO SGT HAROLD WOODY, HE ACTUALLY KNEW  SP4 ERNESTO RODRIGUEZ AND SENT ME HIS PHOTO IN JANUARY, 2010.  ABSOLUTELY AMAZING THAT ALL THIS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION WOULD BE FOUND.  Comments on Sp4 Rodriguez from Sgt Harold Woody:

"Ernesto was a team chief in the wire section of HQ&Svc Btry the 2 years I was there. Never heard of anyone having a problem with him or his performance. I liked him as well as the others in the section. I have a photo of him somewhere here of him inspecting the field phones at our section room.  It sure surprised me to hear the he had been punished by courts-martial. He always treated his men fair. I think he told me once the he was a vet of the 187th Airborne regiment in the Korean War. I do know that he wore that patch on his right shoulder".

Sgt Woody went on to say that Les Cotten, Lt Ric Shinseki's (now retired GEN Shinseki) Recon Sgt, told him that Rodriguez "got busted" as a result of this court martial.

 


Sp4 Ernesto Rodriguez

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