[Marxism] After Decades Out of View, Navy Deserter Hopes to Rally a New Antiwar Generation
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Fri Dec 23 09:18:05 MST 2016
NY Times, Dec. 23 2016
After Decades Out of View, Navy Deserter Hopes to Rally a New Antiwar
By JOHN M. GLIONNA
Craig W. Anderson at home in Las Vegas last month. Mr. Anderson was one
of the “Intrepid Four,” a group of seamen who deserted in Japan during
the Vietnam War. Credit Isaac Brekken for The New York Times
LAS VEGAS — Nearly a half-century ago, Craig W. Anderson took a highly
visible stand against what he considered an unjust war.
In 1967, he and three other Navy seamen walked away from their ship, the
aircraft carrier Intrepid, when it docked in Japan after a bombing
mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam. Calling
themselves “patriotic deserters,” they set off an unrelenting
Aided by a local pacifist group and hounded by United States and
Japanese military police, the fugitives sneaked aboard a Siberia-bound
Russian freighter and were later taken to Moscow by hard-drinking K.G.B.
Called the “Intrepid Four,” they were both hailed as heroes and
condemned as cowards. Mr. Anderson didn’t see himself as a
rabble-rouser, just a sincere, blue-collar kid who had made a
conscientious act against the continuing deaths of innocent Vietnamese
He was eventually arrested by the F.B.I. and served for several months
in a military prison before being released in November 1972 with a bad
For more than four decades, Mr. Anderson went into his own personal
He bounced around North America, produced a movie, wrote country music
and wrote mystery books under the pen name Will Hart while living in Mexico.
He wasn’t running, he said.
“It was my past; it was private,” he said. “I’d just decided to set it
Like many veterans who have survived tours of duty in Iraq and
Afghanistan, he had returned from war emotionally damaged. And he still
struggles to confront the consequences of that chapter of his life.
Now Mr. Anderson, 69, has decided to speak out about his experience, in
part to promote a memoir he is writing. He wants other veterans to know
what he went through, and hopes to rally a new generation of Americans
to take a more vocal stand against the nation’s current military campaigns.
Mr. Anderson said he sees today none of the organized public protests
against American war efforts so common on college campuses in his youth.
Writing has unleashed some personal ghosts.
“It was torture,” he said of the process. “It was like bleeding.”
A ‘Patriotic’ Desertion
On the night of Oct. 23, 1967, the four Navy seamen stood on a busy
Tokyo street, approaching the end of a daylong shore leave.
“I’m not going back,” Mr. Anderson said. None of them were.
They destroyed their ID cards and uniforms. In the eyes of the military,
they had committed the unforgivable sin.
Mr. Anderson and John Barilla were 20, Richard Bailey and Michael
Mr. Anderson’s family’s military roots dated to the Civil War, but he
had attended Berkeley peace rallies and believed that the Vietnam War
was wrong. Yet he felt a duty to his mother and his grandmother to
continue the tradition and serve.
The four spent their first AWOL night in civilian clothes, sleeping in a
subway station and expecting the shore patrol to tap their shoulders at
“They were conscious of the fact this was a big thing they were doing,”
said Ernest Young, a professor emeritus of Chinese history at the
University of Michigan who met with them soon after they deserted.
In the days that followed, the deserters gave a taped interview to a
Japanese television producer and Mr. Anderson read a statement.
“You are looking at four deserters, four patriotic deserters from the
United States Armed Forces,” he began. “Throughout history, the term
‘deserter’ has applied to cowards, traitors and misfits. We are not
concerned with categories or labels. We have reached the point where we
must stand up for what we believe to be the truth.”
By the time the video aired, the four men had left Japan. Seeking safety
in a foreign country, they were aided by an unlikely ally.
With the assistance of Russian officials, the men stowed away aboard the
freighter Baikal, using visitor’s passes supplied by the Soviet Embassy.
They hid in the men’s room until the ship was out to sea, then presented
themselves to a surprised captain.
Arriving at the Siberian port of Nahodka, they were met by K.G.B.
agents, who poured them shots of vodka on the long trip to Moscow. For
six weeks after arriving in Moscow, they were hailed as heroes, awarded
the Lenin Peace Prize as a theater full of Moscow University students
chanted “Molodets!” or “atta boy.”
Eventually, the four ended up in Sweden. But after three years there,
Mr. Anderson wanted to rebuild his life in America.
He was able to pass through United States customs from Canada without a
passport and arrived in San Jose, Calif., to a frigid welcome. His
mother had become an alcoholic, he said; his brother refused to speak to
him. “He was outright against me,” Mr. Anderson recalled. “We never
One morning, as he left his San Francisco apartment to buy a newspaper,
he was greeted by two men in suits. “They said, ‘Mr. Anderson?’” he
said. “And I knew right away.”
He spent nine months in a high-security brig on San Francisco’s Treasure
Island, often in solitary confinement, addressed only by his military
number, B887517. After he went on a hunger strike, Mr. Anderson was
hospitalized for a psychiatric assessment.
Military prosecutors had wanted a four-year sentence, but a judge
released him with a bad conduct discharge.
Mr. Anderson emerged another person. “I couldn’t tolerate crowds,” he
said. “Sirens made me jump.”
He and his second wife moved to rural Mendocino County, where they lived
in a tent. After they divorced, Mr. Anderson went on to become a
songwriter and author, beginning a decades-long journey in search of
He said he didn’t speak of his experience for more than 40 years.
Preserving a Legacy
At the end of 2015, while living in Mexico, Mr. Anderson met Kathleen
Watterson, who was living in Las Vegas, in a political chat room. They
quickly became friends, and he decided to relocate to southern Nevada.
Ms. Watterson knew him only as the author Will Hart and had no inkling
of his past. But in April, Mr. Anderson finally confided his secret. For
some reason, he trusted her.
“I have something to tell you,” he began. “You’ve probably seen me
before. My real name is Craig Anderson. I’m one of the Intrepid Four.”
Then he related the story of how a decision he made at 20 had recast his
Mr. Anderson is considering a visit to his old ship, the now-retired
Intrepid, which serves as a military museum in New York City and
features a small exhibit of the Intrepid Four.
Recently, he spoke with another Intrepid Four member, John Barilla, who
lives in Canada. The other two remained in Sweden.
“I recognized his voice,” Mr. Barilla said. “It was still there, the old
Craig, after 40 years.”
They relived what Mr. Barilla called “our magical mystery tour.”
“It was fantastic,” he said. “I didn’t realize that when I was in it.”
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