Vietnam veteran who deserted in '72 granted special discharge

Posted: Sunday, April 09, 2000

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- A Vietnam veteran who has lived in Canada since deserting his Army post in Alaska in 1972 has been granted a special discharge and will not face a court martial.

Richard Allen Shields, 47, was returning Saturday from Fort Sill, Okla., to a celebration at the Castlegar, British Columbia, home he shares with his fiancee and her 12-year-old daughter.

Christine Paradowski had not seen Shields since March 22, the day the trucker was arrested at one of the U.S.-Canadian border posts he had crossed hundreds of times before with no problems.

''We're trying to get our life back together,'' Paradowski said in a phone interview from Castlegar, about 150 miles north of this Eastern Washington city. ''But there's not much time to rest. He wants to go back to work and back out on the highway'' Sunday.

Shields was driving a lumber truck into the United States at a border crossing near Metaline Falls, about 110 miles north of Spokane, when U.S. Customs Srrvice agents conducted a routine background check.

He was wanted on an old warrant charging him with desertion.

Shields was held without bond in the Pend Oreille County Jail for nearly two weeks before being transported to Fort Sill, where accused deserters picked up west of the Mississippi River are processed.

He could have faced a court martial. A conviction could have resulted in a federal prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge.

But Paradowski says he was granted a Chapter 10 discharge, which appears on records as ''other than honorable discharge.''

Maj. Gen. Toney Stricklin accepted Shields' request for Chapter 10 status, an Army spokesman said.

''It is usually good for the service,'' spokesman Daran Neal, at Fort Still, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane. ''It would be much more expensive to take someone to trial.''

The Army paid for Shields' return trip by bus and plane.

''He's pleased for what he did get,'' said Paradowski, who planned to drive to Spokane to pick him up Saturday night.

She's still upset that Shields was arrested in the first place.

''I'm angry that a warrant could be in place for that long,'' she said.

Shields told The Spokesman-Review he had completed a combat tour in Vietnam when he was stationed at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. He said he left the base in October 1972, believing his life was in danger because he opposed drug activity on the base.

He fled to Canada and moved around for years, working various jobs. He became a Canadian citizen in 1978, and holds dual citizenship, Paradowski said.

When President Jimmy Carter signed a pardon for Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters in 1977, Shields thought he was in the clear. But he -- like many others -- didn't fulfill a requirement to apply for the Special Discharge Review Program.

On Saturday, Paradowski and her daughter made a sign to celebrate his return west: ''Welcome home Rick. We love you.''

''He just wants to be with his family again,'' said Paradowski, who plans to marry Shields on July 1.

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