Ex-Marine regrets going AWOL in '68
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 went absent without leave from the Marine Corps in 1968 and fled to Vancouver.
"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 last week 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 said new anti-terrorist requirements for identification resulted in his arrest at the Eastport crossing at the northern end of the Idaho Panhandle.
He had used the same crossing countless times before, but March 9 was the first time he had to show his birth certificate as identification.
When the Customs agent asked him to pull over, Abney said, he looked at his wife and said, "I'm screwed."
"I was read my rights and told of the charges," Abney said. "I was once again a Marine."
He was taken to a cell in Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was allowed to mingle with troops.
"I told them my story," Abney said. "One of the young fellows said, 'How long have you been UA (unauthorized absence)?' I said 38 years. He said 'Holy crow, they got me after two months.' "
Although he faced as much as five years in prison, he was released Thursday after being discharged without a court-martial and returned to Canada the next day. Once the warrant is cleared, he should be able to enter and exit the U.S. at will.
Abney said he didn't think his arrest was intended to serve as a warning to military personnel.
"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."
Abney's younger brother, who had cancer, died while he was at Camp Pendleton. The Marines expedited his release and paid for a flight so he could return in time for his brother's memorial service Saturday.