YAHK, British Columbia – A Vietnam war-era deserter who was caught crossing into the United States and held for a week says he made a mistake when he fled the Marine Corps in 1968.
"When I was 18, I wasn't aware that duty and honor would mean as much to me as they do now," Allen Abney, 56, said Monday in this southeast British Columbia town.
"Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done what I did 38 years ago," he said. "It wasn't worth it, all the pain I caused my family."
Abney was arrested March 9 while crossing the border to Idaho, something he had done countless times before, but he said that was the first time he was asked for birth certificate as identification. When the Customs agent asked him to pull over, Abney said, he knew he was in trouble.
After a night in custody in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, two Marine investigators took him to a cell in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"I was read my rights and told of the charges," Abney said. "I was once again a Marine."
He said he was issued combat fatigues and boots, given a haircut and told to trim his mustache to military standards or shave it off altogether. Despite the strain, Abney said he was treated with respect.
"The (Marine Corps) is one of the finest military organizations in the world," he said. "Good or bad, they take care of their own and I feel privileged to have shared some time with those fine young warriors."
Faced with punishment ranging from discharge to five years in jail, Abney met with a lawyer from the San Diego Military Counseling Project as arranged by his daughter.
He was released Thursday after being discharged without a court-martial and returned to Canada the next day. Once the warrant is cleared from his record, he should be able to enter and exit the United States at will. Marine spokesman Lt. Lawton King has said privacy laws prohibited disclosing whether Abney received less than an honorable discharge.
Abney was born in the United States and grew up in Canada, but he retained his American citizenship and enlisted with the Marines in 1968 shortly after his younger brother received a draft notice. He was sent to boot camp at Camp Pendleton but fled to Vancouver during a weekend leave. He became a Canadian citizen in 1977.
Vietnam war-era deserters and draft dodgers were given the opportunity to apply for amnesty in the 1970s, but Abney didn't think it was worth turning himself in.
Abney's younger brother, who had been ill with cancer, died while he was at Camp Pendleton this month. The Marines expedited his release so he could attend his brother's memorial service Saturday.