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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 22, 2001

Mysterious Schofield plot filled with untold stories

 •  How one executed soldier finally arrived at Plot 9

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Within the breezy six-acre solitude of the Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery, hidden by an L-shaped mock orange hedge, there sits a smaller, second cemetery that is unceremoniously known as Plot 9.

The seven segregated graves of dishonored soldiers in Plot 9 stand in stark contrast to the hundreds of surrounding tombstones that mark those of soldiers in plots 1 to 8.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Plot 9 is not mentioned on the official locator map just past the front gate, as are plots 1 through 8. Rarely do visitors notice it. Invariably, those who do stumble across it fail to realize its significance, which one writer described as "a shameful slice of American soil."

Nor do many visitors understand that beneath this tiny piece of serene earth lie the remains of soldiers executed in Hawai'i during World War II.

The seven dishonored men in Plot 9 are purposely segregated from the hundreds of surrounding tombstones that reverently mark the burial places of soldiers (as well as their dependents) who fought in such conflicts as the Korean War and World Wars I and II.

Of the general prisoners buried in Plot 9, the last to die was Garlon Mickles, hanged on this day in 1947. Mickles died at a location next to the cemetery known as Execution Gulch — a deep and foreboding quarter-mile wilderness of rocks and jagged vegetation directly south of the post stockade.

The harshness of Execution Gulch stands in marked contrast to the manicured tranquility of the post cemetery, which is sheltered by rows of towering Norfolk pines.

Mickles, 23, the only prisoner in Plot 9 to die after WWII, was also the last person to be executed in Hawai'i. Ten years after he was put to death for raping a military woman in Guam, the Territory of Hawai'i abolished capital punishment.

On Aug. 1, 1945, Jesse D. Boston, 35, and Cornelius Thomas, 23, were escorted from the post stockade to a point 200 yards inside Execution Gulch. Each had been condemned, in unrelated incidents, for killing a Maui resident. Thomas confessed to shooting a man with a .45-caliber pistol. Boston confessed to attacking a woman with a nine-pound rock.

This double execution was unlike anything in Hawai'i's history.

Officially, 142 American soldiers were executed during WWII — 72 for murder, 51 for rape, 18 for rape and murder, and one, private Eddie Slovik, for desertion. Slovik was the subject of a famous book, "The Execution of Private Slovik," by William Bradford Huie, and a movie of the same name starring Martin Sheen.

Unlike Slovik, who achieved posthumous notoriety, the remaining executed soldiers, including those Americans at Schofield's Plot 9, are virtually unknown.

There is scant information about soldiers executed in Hawai'i during and directly after WWII. Residents, and even a few historians, are startled to learn about it.

Partly through the passage of time, and partly because the military was reticent to release detailed information during the war, the story behind the men in Plot 9 has always been murky. Records have been lost and destroyed. Rumors have been whispered and wondered about. What little has been written has often been based on incorrect assumptions that have led to inaccuracies being perpetuated.

For example, practically everything written about Boston and Thomas say both were executed by firing squad, even though one was sentenced to hang and the other sentenced to be shot. Consider the following, taken from no less an authority than the Hawaiian Journal of History, a Hawaiian Historical Society publication:

"There have been at least seven military executions in Hawai'i, most of them at Schofield Barracks' Execution Gulch ... It is noteworthy that both ... soldiers who were sentenced to execution were killed by firing squads. No explanation was ever given for this departure from military custom. The other soldiers were hanged."

One explanation is that it didn't happen that way. According to retired Col. William Steer, what actually occurred at Execution Gulch on Aug. 1, 1945 was that Boston was killed by firing squad and Thomas was hanged. How can he be sure?

Edward Leonski was executed in Australia in 1942 after confessing to strangling three women. He was moved to Schofield in April 1949.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I was there," said Steer, 100, who served as provost marshal in Hawai'i throughout most of WWII. Because the Territory of Hawai'i was under martial law at the time, Steer exercised extraordinary authority.

"They were tried by two different military commissions," Steer said. "And each commission could recommend the method of execution."

Recently examined original documents at Schofield Barracks confirm that Boston was "executed by musketry," and Thomas was "executed by hanging."

Steer says the executions followed one right after the other. They probably occurred in the early morning, although he doesn't recall. Boston went first and faced the firing squad. He was killed almost instantly. Shortly thereafter, Thomas climbed the recently erected gallows, was blindfolded and a rope put around his neck.

Then, because of a design flaw in the gallows, Steer says the hanging took an ugly turn.

"When the trap dropped, because the hinges weren't built right, the thickness of the door extended into the hole," he recalled. "So that when the body dropped, it bounced off that (protruding) edge and didn't get its full weight."

The fall broke Thomas' neck, but it didn't kill him. Thomas wasn't pronounced dead for eleven minutes, Steer says. After that, he recommended that either the gallows be redesigned, or that only firing squads be used in executions.

The specifics of what transpired when Mickles took the long walk at Execution Gulch two years later aren't clear. Steer says he had moved on by then. A newspaper account from the time said Mickles was in such fine spirits that he helped guards adjust his rope. But, it added, "death came 20 minutes after the trap door was sprung."

Boston, Thomas and Mickles are the only Plot 9 residents who died at Execution Gulch. Accurate information about the remaining four has been elusive, and how exactly they ended up in Hawai'i is unclear, but this much is known:

Herman Perry, Robert A. Pearson, Edward J. Leonski, and Louis E. Garbus all died and were buried on foreign soil. On April 14, 1949, all four were reinterred at Plot 9 (known as Plot 3 in those days).

Leonski and Garbus have the distinction of being eternal roommates on two continents, having been buried side by side in the mid-1940s at an American war cemetery in Ipswich, Australia.

It is certain that Leonski was executed in Melbourne on Nov. 9, 1942, for murder. As for Garbus, there are conflicting stories. A 1981 newspaper account, supposedly based on Army information, said Garbus was executed in a gas chamber in Australia for carnal abuse of a 10-year-old girl.

But Ivan Chapman, the late Australian author and journalist, stated categorically in 1982 that "Staff Sergeant Louis E. Garbus committed suicide after his twenty-year sentence for attempted carnal knowledge of a young Brisbane schoolgirl was reduced to ten years."

Chapman also reported that Pearson and a man named Cubia Jones were hanged in England in 1945 for raping a pregnant woman at knifepoint. How Pearson ended up being buried in a Guadalcanal military cemetery before arriving in Hawai'i is something that may never be known. Pearson's military records were destroyed in a 1973 fire in St. Louis.

Perry, according to another military source report, was hanged on March 15, 1945, in Kalaikunda, India, for killing his platoon lieutenant while working on the Burma Road with the 849th Engineers.

Existing records indicate that five of the seven men in Plot 9 were black. Garbus and Leonski are listed as Caucasian. The graves are arranged in two rows. Garbus, Mickles, Thomas and Boston occupy the front. Perry, Pearson and Leonski take up the back.

Of the 1,797 people buried inside the post cemetery, only the seven in Plot 9 are placed with their heads toward their individual tombstones, thus facing away from the post cemetery flag.

"These men were all dishonorably discharged," explained Leslie Stewart Jr., chief of Casualty and Mortuary Affairs at Schofield. "But because they were all in military custody, the military has the responsibility for the disposition of their remains."

They deserved a decent burial, Stewart says. Otherwise, the disgraced seven will remain separated from their honorable counterparts for all eternity.

"As if," he added, "they didn't exist."