A Camp Pendleton gunnery sergeant triggered a small-scale rebellion the day before Thanksgiving when he sought to make an example of a young Marine recruit who had refused orders to train for Persian Gulf duty, a lawyer familiar with the case said Wednesday.
“ ‘This man doesn’t want to be a Marine,’ ” the sergeant told his assembled platoon, according to Bill Smith, a Los Angeles lawyer representing one of the Marines arrested in the case. “ ‘If anybody else doesn’t want to be a Marine and fight for his country in the Middle East, stand up now.’ ”
Eight men stood, Smith said, two of whom were later persuaded to rejoin their platoon and continue infantry training. But the others, who Smith said now call themselves “the Magnificent Seven,” have been held in the Camp Pendleton brig ever since--apparently the largest single group of soldiers to object to the U.S. presence in the Middle East.
Until now, the Marine Corps has kept the embarrassing episode from public knowledge. But, on Wednesday, Cpl. Lynda MacTavish, a Camp Pendleton spokeswoman, confirmed that seven students of the School of Infantry were jailed Nov. 21 after they disobeyed “at the same time” the orders to train. Marines attend the School of Infantry after they complete boot camp in order to learn infantry tactics.
MacTavish said pending litigation prevented her from describing the Thanksgiving Eve episode in detail, but she disputed Smith’s account.
“I can tell you that that story is wrong, but I can’t tell you the way it happened yet,” she said.
Smith responded: “Too many people know about it now, so they’re going to have to admit it. I can tell you with absolute certainty (what happened) because I’ve interviewed all the witnesses.”
According to MacTavish, the charges against the seven men--all of whom are 17 to 19 years old--include conspiracy, willfully disobeying a superior officer and disobeying a lawful or general order. Six of the Marines are in pretrial confinement awaiting special court-martial. They will be tried over the next few months, and each faces a maximum penalty of six months’ confinement.
The other Marine, Pvt. F. J. Fuchs, has been sentenced and remains in the brig, MacTavish said, adding that none of the seven has applied for conscientious objector, or CO, status. She provided no details about Fuchs’ sentence or what charges he had faced, but Smith said the judge had refused to give Fuchs a discharge.
“We cannot discuss the circumstances surrounding the litigation at this time due to the ongoing trials,” MacTavish said. “The School of Infantry trains literally thousands of Marines each year. When dealing with these numbers, there will be discipline problems. This is just another one of those cases.”
Smith is representing one of the other six men, a private from Illinois who is scheduled for a special court-martial hearing in early February. Smith is an expert in defending CO applicants. But he said his client, whose name he would not release without the soldier’s permission, is “not really” a CO.
“He had decided in boot camp that he didn’t want to go on with this,” Smith said. “He was disillusioned with the Marine Corps in general. He had already decided that he was going to refuse” even before the sergeant made an example of the other soldier.
Smith said of the seven, six of whom are being represented by military-appointed counsel, “Each one has a different set of circumstances to relate. I do know that the first guy was definitely opposed to the war in the Persian Gulf.”
Another private, 18-year-old Jimmy Luna, was being held Wednesday on similar charges, but it was not clear whether he was one of the seven.
Capt. Daniel Colfax, Luna’s military-appointed counsel, said that, although the term “the Magnificent Seven” is familiar to him, “it appears that Pvt. Luna is not a member of any group that would be so called.”
But Luna’s wife, Teresa, said Wednesday that she believed he was among the seven.
“He refused to train. He doesn’t want anything to do with the Marine Corps no more,” she said from her home in Hollister, south of San Jose, adding that her husband had enlisted during his junior year in high school and had first reported for duty last July, a month after their wedding.
“I tried talking to him to go back, but he doesn’t want to, so I’m supporting him,” she said, adding that his decision had “nothing to do with the Gulf. He’s determined to get out, and nobody can change his mind. . . . I hope he can get a good job.”
Capt. Bruce Landrum, the senior defense counsel of Legal Services Support Team Delta, situated at the northern end of Camp Pendleton, said it is not uncommon for a few soldiers in each class to refuse their orders to train. But he said the refusals usually come one by one, from one to four individuals per class, not in a group.