Deserters hunted down 30 years after Vietnam

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The Pentagon is arresting old soldiers as thousands of US servicemen are going on the run.

THIRTY-SIX years after he deserted from the US Marines to avoid being sent to Vietnam, Ernest “Buck” McQueen believed that the military had long ago given up looking for him.

But on January 12 his past caught up with him. After his brother-in-law inadvertently tipped off an undercover investigator about his whereabouts, Mr McQueen, 55, was arrested in a burger bar close to his home in Fort Worth and shipped off to a Marine jail in California.

“It wouldn’t have taken a brain surgeon to find me any time,” Mr McQueen, balding and grey, said. “It must be to send a message to the young guys in Iraq not to desert. Why else would they suddenly be chasing down old men?” Mr McQueen, who is now back home, is not the only Vietnam deserter who believes that.

In the past 18 months, after years in which “cold case” absent-without-leave investigations remained effectively closed, the Marine Corps has caught 34 long-time deserters after reopening dozens of files. The latest arrest came last week. Allen Abney, 56, who deserted from the Marines in 1968, was arrested crossing from Canada to the US, a journey he had made hundreds of times in recent years.

The sudden aggressiveness, which resulted last August in Jerry Texiera, a 65-year-old who deserted from the Marines 40 years ago, being arrested and jailed for five months, comes amid growing concerns in the Pentagon over the number of soldiers who have deserted since the Iraq war began. According to Pentagon records released last week, at least 9,000 members of the all-volunteer US military have deserted in the past three years.

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