AWOL in Vietnam

The 2003 Dictionary of American History states: "The unpopular war in Vietnam generated the highest percentage of wartime desertion since the Civil War. From 13,177 cases, or 1.6 percent of the armed forces, in fiscal year 1965, the annual desertion statistics mounted to 2.9 percent in fiscal year 1968, 4.2 percent in fiscal year 1969, 5.2 percent in fiscal year 1970, and 7.4 percent in fiscal year 1971" (Chambers).

Escape Facts

  • Many people escaped to Canada, Mexico, or Sweden

  • In 1974 the Defense Department reported that there had been 503,926 incidents of desertion between 1 July 1966 and 31 December 1973 (Chambers).

  • Soldiers who could not deal with war or did not seem to be fit for war would go to extreme lengths to get out of combat such as shooting themselves in the foot or pretending they had psychological problems.


"The statistics don't begin to tell the story. Each and every incident in which an American or group of Americans became unaccounted for is unique. The truth and the complexity of the issue lie in the details of the individual cases" (Schlatter).

Tracked-Down Deserters


Ernest "Buck" McQueen
  • Was arrested in Fort Worth in January 2006
  • Left North Carolina Camp in November 1969
  • Upon hearing about the My Lai Massacre of 1968, he decided to desert.
"I saw photos of guys with ears on their chains. I lost my desire to be a part of it" (Nichols). - Ernest McQueen

Jerry Texiero
  • Disappeared from his California base in Summer 1965
  • Tracked down in Summer 2005 by Marine Corps in Florida
  • Says his decision to desert was a combination of lingering emotional scars from a childhood lived in foster homes and concerns about stories he also was hearing about Vietnam.

"I thought they couldn't possibly be looking for me anymore. I would think they would have stopped looking for anybody who had been gone as long as I had"
(Nichols). -Jerry Texiero

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