The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps has upheld a career-threatening reprimand issued six weeks ago to the former chief of the Marines' Western air bases over his misuse of military aircraft, officials announced Monday.
The rejection of Brig. Gen. Wayne T. Adams' appeal means that a letter of reprimand will become a permanent part of the former El Toro commander's military record. Such a reprimand is virtually unprecedented against a general officer in the corps, military officials say.
The Marine commandant, Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., offered no explanation for his decision to reject the appeal. In Washington, Marine spokesman Lt. Col. James Vance said that "the commandant upon review found that the punishment was appropriate and ordered it executed."
"I'm disappointed," Adams said in an interview from his current post in Quantico, Va., "but I have the absolute highest respect for Gen. Mundy and the Marine Corps. . . .
"Anytime you get charged with something you believe you haven't done, it stings," Adams said. "I'll always maintain that I'm innocent, but we've reached this point and the decision has been made. I'll still always feel like a Marine."
Mundy was Adams' last avenue of appeal in the Corps, and Adams said he has no plans to try to pursue the case further.
After a closed, non-judicial hearing before Lt. Gen. Ernest T. Cook Jr., who was then Adams' commander at Quantico, Adams was reprimanded in August for having ordered a C-12 Beechcraft to shuttle him between the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and Big Bear during a trip there with his fiancee. The trip violated military policy on authorized travel, Cook found.
An earlier investigation by the Marine Corps inspector general's office, prompted by a report in The Times, also implicated Adams in other abuses that the investigators said amounted to "a dereliction of duty."
Investigators found that Adams took several other questionable plane trips, flew an F/A-18 jet fighter repeatedly without telling military doctors that he was taking heart medication, accepted an improper gift from an Irvine Co. executive, and needlessly spent $7,000 to refurnish his quarters.
But these additional findings were rejected without explanation by Cook and were not included in Adams' reprimand.
Adams' plane use had drawn particular scrutiny because he himself had dismissed two of his top aides in January over allegations that they had used aircraft for golfing jaunts and other personal business.
One of the aides, Col. James E. Sabow, killed himself a few days after Adams suspended him.
Adams took command of the Marines' four Western air bases in California and Arizona last year but was abruptly reassigned this spring to unspecified duties in Virginia after the inspector general's office began its investigation.
A Vietnam veteran, Adams had faced the prospect of fines, a court-martial, or criminal prosecution over the allegations against him. While the letter of reprimand that Cook issued was a less-severe punishment, it effectively ended any chance of advancement for the 51-year-old general, military officials said.
Adams himself acknowledged this Monday, saying that he holds no hope of gaining a second star during the Corps' upcoming annual review. "I'm a realist," he said. Asked whether he planned to retire, he said: "I really don't know what my plans are."