My guest today is author Don Snyder. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Don.
JB: When we last spoke in February, we talked about Of Time and Loss: My Parents' Love Story, one of the books you've written. Today, you have a very different story to tell. Where shall we begin?
DS: Thank you, Joan. This is a soldier's story. The true story of an honorable young lieutenant in the United States Army, Clint Lorance, who served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan where he took command of a platoon in Kandahar on the last day of July 2012. Two days later, while leading his platoon on a patrol through a minefield, a red motorcycle with three riders came speeding towards a column of his soldiers. Soldiers shouted at waved at the motorcycle to stop and when it continued toward his men, Lt. Lorance ordered his men to fire upon it. Two riders were killed. The third was wounded and when he was treated for his wounds, bomb residue was found on his hands. A year later, Lt. Lorance was court-martialed at Fort Bragg where he had earned his paratrooper wings. He was convicted on two counts of murder and a third of attempted murder and sentenced to Leavenworth prison for twenty years.
JB: War is not pretty, that's for sure. What bothered you so much about this story, Don?
DS: His mother contacted me and I heard the anguish in her voice. I thought of all the mothers who had watched their children go to war. I thought of all the mothers who just want what is best for their children. And I thought of my father who was a soldier in WWII. I thought of his two good high school friends who were killed on the beaches of Normandy. I thought how I had been spared from going to Vietnam because I won a football scholarship to go to college. All of that was swirling in my mind when the soldier's mother called me.
JB: Why did she contact you, Don, and how did she get to you?
DS: It's a long story, I'm afraid. It began on a cold, winter day in Bar Harbor, Maine, in January of 1978 in the middle of a blizzard when I met another soldier.
I was the newly hired editor of the weekly newspaper in Bar Harbor, The Bar Harbor Times. On that January morning all the summer tourists had long since dispersed and the storefronts were boarded up against the brutal North Atlantic weather. A canvas executioner's hood was hung over the face of the big bronze clock in the park. It was early morning and the only light on the main street was the lamp on my desk, beside my black Royal typewriter in the front window of the newspaper office. I was sitting there with a cup of coffee when I looked up and saw someone walking through the blowing snow to my door. He introduced himself as "Major Alley" and he said he had a story he wanted to tell me. "You're always looking for stories, right?" he said. I told him I was and asked him to sit down. He was wearing khaki trousers and a matching shirt, a uniform of sorts, I remember thinking. He had barely begun talking when I was called away to take a photograph of one of the summer restaurants that the storm tide had torn off its underpinnings and was carrying out to sea. I asked him to come back the next morning.
On his way to see me he dropped dead in the snow from a heart attack. Instead of writing his story I wrote his obituary.
I learned his story from his widow who had fought beside him for twenty five years to try to restore his honor.
I wrote a book about their fight which told how this fellow had been a WWII combat veteran sent by the army to fight in Korea where he was captured and held prisoner for three years by the Chinese. When the war ended his weight was down from 200 pounds to 97 pounds. He spent two years convalescing in a Navy Hospital on Long Island where one lung, destroyed by tuberculosis, was removed. The day he was discharged from the hospital the United States Army arrested him. They court-martialed him at Fort Meade and convicted him of collaborating with the enemy while a prisoner of war.
He loved the army so much that he would not speak against the charges in his own defense. He was basically a country boy from Maine with no idea that he was now the centerpiece in a political sideshow instigated by Senator Joseph McCarthy who had accused the army of being soft on communists in their ranks. To shut the senator up, the army needed to put an officer on trial as a collaborator with the Chinese communists-- not a West Point officer, but a soldier who had earned his commission in the field. So they chose Alley, convicted him and sent him to Leavenworth prison on a life sentence.
Three years later, after McCarthy had vanished the army quietly sent Alley home to Maine where he began fighting to prove he had been falsely condemned by the army he loved.
Fifty nine years after Major Alley was sent to Leavenworth, the book I wrote about him somehow ended up in the prison library where--as Fate would have it-- in March of this year Lieutenant Clint Lorance read it in his prison cell. He asked his mother to try to contact me just to tell me how much my book had meant to him.