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Date to Retire Set for Marine in Plane Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A retirement date of April 1 has been set for Col. Joseph E. Underwood, the former chief of staff at the Marine Corps Air Station here until he was relieved of duty in January for alleged misuse of military planes and other improprieties, base officials said Thursday.

The retirement marks the final chapter in Underwood’s fall.

Last month, Underwood agreed to plead guilty in a closed military hearing to charges of using base planes and a military computer for personal purposes, coercing a subordinate into splitting the winnings from a cost-cutting suggestion worth $1,500, and giving false information on a medical report.

During an investigation that began in January, the military looked at whether Underwood, an avid golfer, had used base planes to play golf around the Southwest and on the East Coast.

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But the colonel and his wife have maintained in past interviews that the purpose of the flights was actually to get in enough flight time to keep his pilot’s license current and that he merely did some golfing once at his destinations.

“He’s bitter, he doesn’t believe he’s been treated fairly and he’s going to consider pursuing this after he retires,” one source close to Underwood said Thursday. “As long as he was on active duty, they could resurrect all this and court-martial him, but after the fact, he’s considering doing some things to exonerate himself.”

Underwood decided to plead guilty to the charges to avoid the prospect of being convicted by military court-martial and losing benefits accrued in nearly three decades of service. These include medical benefits used to treat his wife, who suffers from a brain tumor.

The investigation that cost Underwood his job also led to the death of a close friend, Col. James E. Sabow, an assistant chief of staff at El Toro in charge of air operations.

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Sabow killed himself in January less than a week after he was suspended from his duties following allegations of using planes for personal trips, military officials said. He and Underwood often flew together.

Capt. Betsy Sweatt, a spokeswoman for the El Toro base, said that base officials had just received word from Marine headquarters in Washington of the April 1 retirement date for Underwood and had endorsed the order Thursday.


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