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101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) SJA Office Vietnam Reunion

 
 
   
   
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This flag in front of the home of John Rodgers welcomed reunion attendees.

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In June 2018, lawyers who served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) reunited in Dallas. There had been previous reunions, but this was the largest gathering of those who served from 1969–1971, despite the increasing number of deceased comrades from that era.

Most of the lawyers in attendance were not career judge advocates. In fact, many were not Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps officers at all. The Military Justice Act of 1968 (effective in August 1969) extended the accused’s right to a lawyer as counsel at special courts-martial. There simply were not enough judge advocates authorized or assigned to the division to handle the case load. Fortunately, the command supported the need for additional resources by screening files of incoming officers for qualified non-JAG Corps lawyers and assigning those acceptable to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. They served with distinction and were quickly made part of the group.

Bill Fanter was a primary organizer of the reunion. The reunion was held at the Dallas home of John Rodgers, a judge advocate who left active duty after his initial obligation and eventually became general counsel of two large corporations. He went on to establish his own very successful business. Both Bill and John served with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) during a period in which their tours overlapped with those of many who served during 1969–1971. They were ideally positioned to bring together so many lawyers who served in what were quite distinct eras, defined largely by the personalities of the staff judge advocates (SJAs) at the time.

Then-Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Carl (“Mad Dog”) Welborn served as the SJA from September 1969 to September 1970. His motto of “work hard, play hard” (which he followed to perfection) inspired deep-seated loyalty in subordinates, four of whom (three captains and a warrant officer) had accompanied him from Fort Campbell to Camp Eagle. Rather than leaving Camp Eagle after six months for more friendly surroundings, all four chose to stay the full year with “Mad Dog.”

Then-LTC Richard Hawley was assigned as the SJA in September 1970. “Love” is perhaps the best word to describe the relationship of LTC Hawley and his young lawyers. He taught, inspired, and mentored his charges, but most importantly, he had their backs. Reunion attendees who served under him made sure they took the time to sign the 101st flag and participated in a video for him. The video turned out to be a great tribute to his leadership. Unfortunately, he died shortly before the flag, video, and a memory book were delivered, but his family appreciated the tribute.

The Camp Eagle lawyers reminisced about their fascinating experiences with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), including such things as the prosecution of the first helicopter hijacking case in Vietnam; the in-person payment of a large foreign claim that resulted from a vehicle running over Vietnamese children; conducting an Article 32 investigation on a destroyer in the South China Sea (manslaughter case involving a 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) helicopter pilot); the misplacement of evidence during the course of a trial (C-4 explosive); and the December 1969 fool-hardy foray to the A Shau Valley to procure a Christmas tree for the office Christmas party.

Camp Eagle veterans and their wives gathered in the pool and garden area.

Many of those attending the reunion had not seen one another since they left Vietnam some forty-eight years earlier. And they enjoyed meeting and learning more about the lawyers with whom their tours did not overlap. A number of the lawyers’ wives attended the reunion and shared their common experiences.

Many Camp Eagle lawyers went on to distinguished careers as trial lawyers prosecuting terrorism cases and representing well-known celebrities, judges presiding over landmark cases, and corporate counsel. It was uplifting to experience the humility, gratitude, gentleness, and kindness of all these super-lawyers. That is no doubt attributable, at least in part, to their experience as a “band of brothers” at Camp Eagle, Vietnam. TAL

 


COLs (Ret.) Strassburg and Kennett are both retired judge advocates and members of RAJA.