10/21/12 6:00am
10/21/2012 6:00 AM

Marine Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola

Let me try to get this straight.

A man serves our country in the U.S. Marine Corps during multiple trips over several years to war zones and is thought of so highly that he reaches the rank of staff sergeant at the age of 27. Forget the medals he has been awarded.

Then, in a lapse of judgment (something none of us has ever experienced) lasting a few seconds, he is now to be court-martialed. He is no longer a hero, is possibly guilty of vaguely worded phrases in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is possibly to be considered in the company of those who have committed war crimes or even crimes against humanity and is most certainly an embarrassment to the USMC.

I have served on court-martials and on one occasion was the single officer serving as a Summary Court officer. The USMC code book was not too far from any of us. We frequently discussed a variety of simple and sometimes strange events during garrison life in 1960s Camp Lejeune, events such as beatings, temporary insanity (with loaded weapons) and accidental discharge of a weapon, to name a few.

Second-hand stories of horrific events in Korea and later in Vietnam still come to mind. One of my lance corporals shot a man in West Virginia but was let go with no paperwork when I promised the district attorney he would go to Vietnam within the month.

A radio operator I served with shot men in 1965 off the tops of buildings in downtown Santo Domingo. One of the finest Marines I ever served with accidentally killed a friend after they came off guard duty.

Military life comes with a wide variety of events, and sensible and sensitive people sort it all out to keep a non-event from exploding into a court-martial.

Something doesn’t add up to me, a former company commander long released from active duty. As a nation we seem to have completely lost our sense of balance and proportion. Whatever happened to common sense, which is not so common anymore.

I have three granddaughters, ages 13, 15 and 17. Each is healthy, athletic and physically tough. If any of them wind up as an enlisted Marine or work to become a commissioned officer, I would be proud to have them serve with Staff Sgt. Deptola.

In the meantime, we can live and sleep well knowing that in some foreign field a handful of super-competent American service women and men are making life somewhat miserable for those who would kill us. To put it yet another way, I’ve never been urinated on, but it doesn’t seem to be that big a deal compared with a thousand other events in my life.

A copy of this letter and others will go to our senators and representative after the election with the request they force an inquiry into who or what in the Department of Defense caused this whole incident to get out of hand. Failing that, my money goes to Staff Sgt. Deptola for his defense.

For the record, I have had no contact with this Marine or his family. But if I ever meet him, my first words will be, “Thank you for your service to our country.”

 

Mr. Clarke, the owner of Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding, lives in Greenport and is a former village mayor.