Vietnam deserter raises uncomfortable ghosts

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The Independent Online
The United States Marine Corps is being forced to confront the ghosts of Vietnam, in the person of 48-year-old Randy Caudill.

Arrested last week in a routine border check, nearly 30 years after he deserted the marines and fled to Canada, Caudill awaits his punishment at Camp Pendleton, California, where he served as a 19-year-old radio operator. If convicted of desertion, he faces five years in a military jail.

The marines pride themselves on being the toughest and truest of the American armed forces, always faithful - "Semper Fidelis" - to their own. But former Private Caudill is a grandfather and a family man, a retired mechanic with serious arthritis. He deserted in 1968, in the year of the Tet offensive, as anti-war fervour in America reached its height.

"All I want is for them to send Randy home real fast," said his wife Twylla, a Canadian teacher.

Caudill was arrested returning to Canada from one of several visits to his daughter, when a computer check turned up a military arrest warrant. The marines say they take the case "seriously", but may come under pressure to finesse charges. A spokesman stressed that Caudill was being treated with dignity: "He is being treated as another marine."

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