“There was indeed one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Joseph Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did not allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward.’”
—All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
All his life Edward Zepp has wanted nothing so much as to go to the next world with a clear conscience. So on Sept. 11 the old man, carrying a borrowed briefcase filled with papers, boarded an Amtrak train in Deerfield Beach and headed north on the Silver Meteor to our nation’s capital. As the porter showed him to his roomette, Ed Zepp kept saying, “I’m 83 years old. Eighty-three.”
At 9 A.M. the next day, Zepp was to appear at the Pentagon for a hearing before the Board for Correction of Military Records. This was, he said, “the supreme effort, the final fight” in the private battle of Private Zepp, Company D, 323rd Machine Gun Battalion, veteran of World War I, discharged on Nov. 9, 1919—with dishonor.
Something happens to people after a certain age, and the distinctions of youth disappear. The wrinkles conquer like an army. In his old age, Zepp is bald. He wears fragile glasses. The shoulders are rounded. His pace is stooped and slow. It is hard, in a way, to remove 60 years, and picture him tall, lanky, a rebel.
The old man, wearing a carefully chosen business suit which he hoped would be appropriately subdued for the Pentagon, sat in the chair of his roomette as the train pulled out of Deerfield Beach. With a certain palsied eagerness he foraged his briefcase. Before the train reached full speed, he arranged on his lap the relics from his days at war. There were the dog tags and draft card, even his Department of War Risk life insurance policy. There was a letter to his mother written in 1919 in France, explaining why he was in the stockade. His fingers, curled with arthritis and in pain, attacked several documents. He unfurled the pages of a copy of the original court-martial proceedings, which found him in violation of the 64th Article of War: failure to obey the command of a superior officer. There was also a copy of the rule book for Fort Leavenworth, where Zepp had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
When Ed Zepp was drafted in 1917, he told his draft board he had conscientious objections to fighting overseas. The draft board told him his objections did not count; at the time only Quakers and Mennonites were routinely granted C.O. (conscientious objector) status. “As a Lutheran, I didn't cut any ice,” he said. Zepp was one of 20,873 men between the ages of 21 and 31 who were classified as C.O.’s but inducted nonetheless. Of those, only 3,999 made formal claims once they were in camp. Zepp’s claim occurred on June 10, 1918, at Fort Merritt, N.J., the day before his battalion was scheduled overseas. Earlier, Zepp had tried to explain his position to a commanding officer, who told him he had a “damn fool belief.” On June 10, Zepp was ordered to pack his barracks bag. When he refused, sergeant—“Sgt. Hitchcock, a real hard-boiled guy, a Regular Army man”—held a gun to his head: “Pack that bag or I’ll shoot.”
“Shoot,” said Zepp, “you son of a bitch.”
Conscientious objection has always been a difficult issue for the military, but perhaps less difficult in 1917 than in recent times. Men who refused to fight were called “slackers” and “cowards.” By the time the United States entered the war, the public had been subjected to a steady onslaught of “blatant propaganda,” according to Dr. Raymond O’Connor, professor of American history at the University of Miami.
The government found ways to erode the spirit of isolationism felt by many Americans, and replace it with a feeling of jubilant hostility against the Germans. It was patriotic to despise the Kaiser. It was patriotic to sing: Over There; Oh I Hate To Get Up In The Morning and Long Way to Tipperary. A new recruiting poster pointed out that “Uncle Sam Wants You.” The war’s most important hero was Sgt. York, a conscientious objector who was later decorated for capturing Germans. They made a movie of Sgt. York’s heroics.
They mad an example of Pvt. Edward Zepp, a kid from Cleveland.
Zepp was formally released from the Army 60 years and two days ago.
But Zepp has never released the Army.
At his upcoming hearing at the Pentagon, Zepp was after a subtle distinction, two words really, “honorable discharge,” meaningless to anybody but himself. It would be a victory that couldn’t even be shared with the most important person in his life, his wife, Christine, who died in 1977.
In 1952, Zepp appeared before the same military board. At that time the Army agreed that he was a sincere C.O. His discharge was upgraded to a “general discharge with honor.” He became entitled to the same benefits as any other veteran, but he has never taken any money: “I have lived without their benefits all my life.” The board refused to hear his case again; only a bureaucratic snafu and the intercession of Rep. Daniel Mica (D., Palm Beach) paved the way to the hearing scheduled for Sept. 12.
For 41 years Zepp worked as the money raiser for The Community Chest, now called The United Way, in Cleveland. He learned how to get things done, to get things from people.
For years, he has sought his due from the Pentagon. His persistence was not only heroic, but also a touch ornery. Here is a man who refused to fight in World War I but who takes a blackjack with him to ward off potential punks every time he leaves his Margate condominium at night. He talks about how there are just wars, and maybe we should have gone all out in Vietnam, “just like we did in Hiroshima, killing the whole city” and in the next breath he talks about problems that occur when “the Church starts waving a Flag.”
It is impossible to tell how much of his fight is hobby and how much the passion of a man who says he cannot die—he literally cannot leave this earth—until his honor is fully restored.
For his day in court, Ed Zepp was not taking any chances. His health is failing; he is at the age of illness and eulogy. He has an understandable preoccupation with his own debilities (proximal atrial fibrillations, coronary heart disease, pernicious anemia). Many of his references, especially his war stories, are to people now gone. At $270 for a round-trip train ticket, the plane would have been cheaper, but Zepp thought flying would be too risky; it might bring on a seizure, a blackout, something worse.
On the train the old man talked obsessively about what happened during the war. He told his story over and over and over—clack clack clack, like the train on the rails. Except for this constant talk, there was nothing about him that revealed his mission. As he hesitantly walked the narrow, shaking corridors, making his way from car to car, he did not have the air of a man headed for the crucial confrontation of his life. He looked like a nicely dressed elderly man who might be taking the train out of preference for gravity or perhaps in sentimental memory of the glory days of railroading.
“This was the war to end war,” Zepp said on the way to the dining car. “The war to make the world safe for democracy. Democracy. They gave me a kangaroo court-martial.”
All his life, Zepp has believed he was denied the very freedoms he had been recruited to defend. He has nursed his grievances like an old war injury, which, on one level, is exactly what they are. “They murdered me, you know. The tried to in a way.”
His refusal to fight turned him into a fighter: “I was cursed,” he said. “It made a killer out of me, almost.”
He said he was seeking only one thing: “My honor. My good name. I don’t see how a great nation can stigmatize as dishonorable a person who was following the dictates of his conscience. When I die, I want it said of me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
Ed Zepp turned to the young waiter, in his starched white mess coat, who had been patiently waiting for him to order lunch. He ordered a turkey sandwich: “I can’t eat much. My doctor says I should eat lightly. I take enzyme pills to help me digest.”
September 1979, Sebring, Fla.: Ed Zepp’s light lunch has just been placed before him. September, 1917, Cleveland, Ohio: Ed Zepp’s appeals to the draft board have been rejected twice.
During any long trip, there is a distortion of landscape and time; the old man’s talk echoed the feeling of suspension that comes with being on the road. The closer he got to the Pentagon, the closer he got to 1917.
Before he was drafted at the age of 21, Zepp had already earned a business degree and worked as a clerk at Johns Manville. At the time, his native Cleveland was heavily industrialized, with much social and political unrest. Socialist Eugene Debs was a frequent visitor; Zepp says the man was “fire.” He remembers listening to his speeches and once joined a Debs march, clear across town, to a large hall on the west side. Debs preached workers’ rights and counseled against war. So did Zepp’s pastor, who was censured by the Lutheran Church for his outspoken views against the war. “War,” says Ed Zepp, “was an ocean away.”
Zepp’s parents were Polish immigrants, Michael and Louise Czepieus. His father was a blacksmith, “not the kind who made shoes for horses, but rather he made all the ironwork pertaining to a wagon.” There were five children and all of them were sent to business school and ended up, says Zepp, “in the business world.”
“I was a top-notch office man all my life,” he says. In any family there is talk about somebody’s lost promise, failed opportunity, and in the Zepp family, there was talk, principally among his sisters, about how with his meticulous mind, he would have been a great lawyer, but for the war, but for what happened over there.
The waiter removed the empty plates from Zepp’s table, and the next group of hungry passengers was seated.
Three P.M. Waldo, Fla., in the club car. Ed Zepp is nursing a soda, and on the table in front of him, like a deck of marked cards, are the original court martial proceedings.
Eighty miles an hour.
The train was moving almost as fast as Edward Zepp is old, and he seemed impressed by that. “It is,” he said, “a wonderful way to see the countryside.” The world passed by in a blur.
Despite his ailments, there is something energetic and alert about Zepp; for two months before the hearing, he swam every day for half an hour to build stamina. Sipping his soda, he wondered whether he had chosen the correct clothes. His suit was brown and orange. He had a color-coordinated, clip-on tie and a beige shirt. “I have another suit that my wife, Christine, picked out for me, but it has all the colors of the rainbow, and I didn’t want to show up at the Pentagon looking like a sport in front of all those monkeys. Oops. I’d better be careful. They probably wouldn’t like it if I called them monkeys, would they?”
This trip was partly in memory of Christine, Zepp’s third wife, whom he married in 1962, shortly before he retired to Florida. His first marriage was brief; during the second marriage he had two children, a son who died in his early 30s (“He served in Korea and he was a teacher.”) and a daughter, now 46 years old, a psychiatric social worker who lives near Boston.
“Christine would want me to do this. She was a fighter, she was a real person. She was the only one I cared about. And what happened? She died. All the guys in my condominium thought I would be the first to go, but she passed away on May 1, 1977, two days before my 81st birthday. Do you know what she said to me before she died? ‘I want to be buried with my wedding ring on.’ I meet other women at the square dances at the senior center. One of them said, 'Ed, let’s go to the Bahamas for a week. Get your mind off this. It’s too much pressure.’ But I couldn’t go away. Christine and I are married, even in death.”
When Ed Zepp speaks of his third wife, his face sometimes gets an odd look; there is a dream-like minute or so. The voice catches, the blue eyes become rheumy, his words come out in a higher pitch. Just as it seems as if he will break down and sob, composure returns. The same thing often happens when he speaks of what happened during the war.
“Anyone who reads this court-martial,” said Zepp, “will acquaint himself with all the vital points of my case: how the draft board refused to listen; how the army loused it up in Camp Sherman when the failed to inform me of General Order Number 28; how, at Fort Merritt, Sgt. Hitchcock held the gun to my head and forced me to pack, and then they shanghaied me out of the country on the SS Carmania, and in France they gave me a kangaroo court-martial.”
General Order Number 28, issued by the War Department on March 23, 1918, was an effort by the government in mid-war to expand the definition of those who qualified for C.O. status. Men who had been already drafted, but had sought C.O. status were supposed to be informed by a “tactful and considerate” officer of their right to choose non-combatant service.
“General Order Number 28 was never read or posted during the time I was at boot camp at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio,” Zepp maintains. This was how it was done—gospel truth: 250 of us were lined up in retreat. Lt. Paul Herbert went through the ranks, asking each man, ‘Any objections to fighting the Germans?’ Well, I thought they were looking for pro-German sympathizers. I wasn’t a pro-German sympathizer. My parents were Polish. I did not speak up.
“Then at Fort Merritt, Sgt. Hitchcock, he was a hard-boiled sergeant, put the gun on me. He never told the court-martial about that. He approached me in a belligerent manner; there was no kindly and courteous officer informing me of my rights as specified in General Order Number 28.
“They shipped me overseas against my will, and for two months in France I still didn’t know what action would be taken against me for defying St. Hitchcock and Capt. Faxon. They kept me busy with regular military work. I helped erect a machine-gun range, I had rifle practice, I learned how to break a person’s arm in close combat.
“During that time, Lt. Herbert propositioned me with a nice soft easy job. He came up to me and said, ‘Zepp, how about calling the whole thing off. I’ll get you a nice soft easy job in the quartermaster.’” Zepp repeated Herbert’s word in the buttery tone of voice he always uses when he repeats Herbert’s words. “He tried to make a deal. But I had no confidence. I smelled a rat. And to prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt it was not a sincere offer, find one word in the court-martial proceedings that he offered me a job. He was trying to make a deal. It was a trap.
“And then they Shanghaied me out of the country and gave me a kangaroo court-martial. I wasn’t even allowed to face my accusers.” During Zepp’s court-martial many of the basic facts which are part of his litany are mentioned. The sergeant who held a gun to his head testified, but no mention was made of that action. Capt. C.W. Faxon said he believed Zepp had “sincere religious objections.” Sgt. Steve Kozman admitted to giving the defendant “a few kicks in the behind” on his way to the SS Carmania.
In his testimony, Zepp told about how, the same evening he refused to pack his barracks bag, “Lt. Paul Herbert came up to me and spoke in a general way about my views and called them pro-German. He also asked me if I had a mother and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he asked me if I had a sister and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Would you disgrace them by having you picture in the paper?’”
Zepp argued that in light of General Order Number 28 the Army had no right to ship him overseas without first offering noncombatant service. The heart of Zepp’s case, as he spoke of it before the tribunal long ago, showed his instinct for fine, if quixotic distinctions:
“I did not willfully disobey two lawful orders, but I was compelled to willfully obey two alleged lawful orders.”
Savannah, Ga. 7 P.M. The train had crossed state lines, and Zepp had just entered the dining car for an evening meal of fish and vegetables. His conversation once again crossed the borders of geography and time.
Even at dinner, it was impossible for him to abandon his topic.
“Let me tell you about what happened after the court-martial. They put me in a dungeon; there were rats running over me, the floor was wet, it was just a place to throw potatoes, except they’d all rot. It was later condemned as unfit for human habitation by the psychiatrists who interviewed me. That was a perfect opportunity to act crazy and get out of the whole thing. But I stuck by my conscience. I was not a coward. It’s easier to take a chance with a bullet than stand up on your own two feet and defy.”
He talked about how the Army discovered he had “office skills” and he spent much of his time as a clerk—“sergeant’s work, or at least corporal’s.”
He said he was transferred to Army Bases all over France during the year 1919; the best time was under Capt. John Evans: “I had my own desk, and Captain Evans put a box of chocolates on it, which he shouldn’t have, because it turned me into a 250-pounder. I had the liberty of the city, and Capt. Evans gave me unsolicited recommendation.” Zepp quoted it by heart: “Private Zepp has worked for me since Jan. 3, 1919. During this time he has been my personal clerk, and anyone desiring a stenographer will find him trustworthy and with no mean ability.”
In August 1919, as part of his clerical duties, Zepp was “making out service records for boys to return home to the United States, and finally the time came for me to make one out for myself.”
In September he arrived in Fort Leavenworth where once again he served as a clerk: “They made me secretary to the chaplain, and I taught the boys how to operate a typewriter.
“Finally on Nov. 9, 1919, the released me. I still don’t know why I didn’t serve the complete sentence. I never asked for their mercy. I think it must have been my mother, she must have gone to our pastor, and he intervened.”
Zepp paused, and his look became distant. There was that catch in his voice; he cried without tears.
Dinner was over.
Ten P.M. Florence, S.C. After nursing one beer in the club car, Zepp decided it was time to get some sleep. As he prepared to leave for his roomette, he said, “They tried to make Martin Luther recant, but he wouldn’t. Remember: ‘If they put you to shame or call you faithless, it is better that God call you faithful and honorable than that the world call you faithful and honorable.’ Those are Luther’s own words. 1526.”
It was hard to sleep on the train; it rocked at high speeds and it made a number of jerking stops and churning starts in the middle of the night in small towns in North Carolina.
Ed Zepp asked the porter to wake him an hour before the 6 A.M. arrival in Washington, but his sleep was light and he awoke on his own at 4. He shaved, dressed, and then sat in the roomette, briefcase beside him. The train pulled in on time, before sunrise.
Wandering the almost-empty station, Zepp had a tall dignity, eyeglasses adding to his air of alertness. He sat by himself on a bench, waiting for his lawyer who was due at 7. Zepp’s lawyer was a young fellow who had read about his client in Liberty Magazine. Thirty-four years old, John St. Landau works at the Center for Conscientious Objection in Philadelphia. Landau called the old man in Florida and volunteered his services. They made plans to meet at Union Station, and Zepp told the lawyer, “Don’t worry. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be the decrepit old man creeping down the platform.”
Landau, himself a C.O. during the Vietnam War, arrived at the appointed hour. The two men found an empty coffee shop where they huddled at a table for about an hour. Zepp told his lawyer he had not brought his blackjack to Washington, and the lawyer said, smiling, “I take it you are no longer a C.O.”
At 8:30 they left to take the Metro, Washington’s eerily modern subway system with computerized “farecards,” to the Pentagon.
Zepp was easily the oldest person on the commuter-filled subway. He did not try to speak above the roar. His was a vigil of silence. When the doors sliced open at the “Pentagon” stop, the hour of judgment was upon him.
“The gates of hell,” he said, “shall not prevail.”
It would be hard to surmise, given the enthusiasm of his recital, that Zepp was in Washington on not much more than a wing and a prayer. In April, the Pentagon had mistakenly promised him a hearing; it was a bureaucratic bungle. On May 9, he was told there had been an error; there was no new evidence in his case; therefore there should be no new hearing. On May 31, Rep. Mica wrote to the review board requesting a new hearing on the strength of his office. It was granted for Sept. 12, but Zepp had been forewarned in a letter from the Pentagon that just because he was getting his hearing, he should not conclude from this concession that “the department” admits “any error or injustice now … in your records.”
Just before Zepp was ushered into the small hearing room at 11, he gave himself a pep talk: “I am to going to be real nice. Getting even doesn’t do anything, punching someone around. I want to do things the Christian way. And I’ll use the oil can. When I was at the Community Chest, I called all the women ‘darlings’ and I would polka them at the parties. I used the oil can profusely.”
Zepp departed for the hearing room.
The fate of the World War I veteran, defended by a Vietnam era lawyer, was to be decided by a panel of five—four veterans of World War II, one veteran of the Korean War. The chairman was Charles Woodside, who also served on the panel that heard the appeal of the widow of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, the first deserter since the Civil War to be executed. Less than a week before Zepp’s hearing, newspapers carried a story about how Slovik’s widow, denied a pension by the Army, had finally died, penniless, in a nursing home.
Landau stated Zepp’s case, saying that the defendant accepted the findings of the 1952 hearing, the findings which concluded Zepp had in fact been sincere: “The reason we’re here is that we believe the general discharge ought to be upgraded to an honorable discharge. … What we see as the critical issue is the quality of [Mr. Zepp’s] service.”
The first witness was Martin Sovik, a member of the staff of the Office for Governmental Affairs of Lutheran Council. Like Landau, Sovik had also been a C.O. during Vietnam.
He confirmed that in 1969 the Lutheran Church in America supported individual members of the church, following their consciences, to oppose participation in war. One member of the panel asked Sovik how you can determine whether a person is in fact a C.O.
“That decision is made within a person’s mind—obviously you can’t know whether a person is a C.O. anymore than whether he is a Yankees’ fan or an Orioles’ fan except by his own affirmation.”
Next, the old man took his turn. The panel urged him to remain seated during his testimony. The old man marshaled the highlights of his military experience: Shanghaied, nice soft easy job, tactful and courteous officer, hard-boiled sergeant, gun to my head, face my accusers, unfit for human habitation, unsolicited recommendation. The words tumbled out, a litany.
Every now and then Zepp’s composure cracked, stalling the proceedings. “I’m sure it’s hard to recall,” said Woodside.
“It’s not that,” said the defendant. “I’m just living it. This was indelibly impressed. It was vivid on my mind, like something that happened yesterday.”
At 1, a luncheon recess was called. Woodside promised that he would continue to listen with sympathy when the hearing resumed.
“Govern yourself by the facts,” said Zepp. “Then we’ll both be happy.”
As they were leaving the hearing room, Zepp turned to Landau and Sovik and apologized for breaking down. You’re doing all right, you’re doing just fine,” said Sovik.
“I can’t help it. Every now and then my voice breaks,” said Zepp. “It touches me.”
Sovik, putting his hand on the old man’s arm, said: “It touches us all.”
The afternoon was more of the same: Lt. Herbert was not making me a sincere offer, German sympathizer, disgrace your sisters, sincere religious objections.
Finally the executive secretary of the Corrections Board, Ray Williams, the man most familiar with Zepp’s case, asked the defendant:
“Mr. Zepp, since you received your general discharge under honorable conditions back in 1952 as a result of a recommendation of this board, have you ever applied to the V.A. for any benefits?”
Zepp: “No I haven’t”
Williams: “You understand you are entitled to all the benefits of an honorably discharged soldier.”
Zepp: “That’s right. The one thing that bothers me is my conscience, my allegiance to the Almighty. I have to see this thing through. … I don't think that a person who follows the dictates of his conscience and is a true Christian should be stigmatized as a dishonorable person. And I think he shouldn’t even get a second-rate discharge.”
Williams: “… In all good conscience you can say that your discharge is under honorable conditions.”
Zepp: “I personally feel it would behoove the United States of America, who believes in freedom of conscience, religion or the Bill of Rights, that a person who follows, truthfully follows, the dictates of his conscience, and you are obliged to follow that because you’ve got a relationship with God, and I don’t think that we should stigmatize anybody like that as being a dishonorable person.
“And the reason I’m here at my advanced age—83, arthritis and all that—my inner self, my conscience, says, ‘Now here. You go to the board and make one last effort.’” Zepp paused. He hunched forward and made ready to sling one final arrow: “In view of the fact, Mr. Williams, that there’s not much difference, then why not make it honorable? There isn’t much difference. Let’s make it honorable and we’ll be happy.”
Zepp’s lawyer closed with a plea:
“The military has come a long way since 1918 in their dealing with these individuals who have religious scruples about continued military service. … I would contend that it’s in part because of individuals like Mr. Zepp who were willing to put their principles on the line many years ago … that it took individuals like that to finally work out a good system of dealing with conscientious objection. And that’s what the military has now after many, many years. That, in its own right, is a very important service to the military.”
The panel closed proceedings. A decision was promised sometime within the next month.
Back at Union Station, waiting for the return trip: gone now the derelict emptiness of the early morning hours. In the evening the station was smart with purpose: well-dressed men and women, toting briefcases and newspapers, in long lines waiting for trains. The old man sat on a chair and reviewed the day. He smiled and his eyes were bright.
“I feel very confident. I sensed victory. I put all my cards on the table and I called a spade a spade. Did you see how I went up afterwards and I shook all their hands, just like they were my friends. I even shook the hands of Williams, my enemy, and I leaned over and I said to him, ‘I love you, darling.’ I acted as if I expected victory and I did not accept defeat. I used the oil can profusely.”
He paused. Zepp looked up, seeming to study the ceiling. He cupped his chin with his left hand. The old man was silent. A college girl across from him watched him in his reverie, and she smiled a young smile.
Finally, the old man spoke. He seemed shaken. His voice was soft, filled with fear, the earlier confidence gone. The thought had come, like a traitor, jabbing him in the heart:
“I’ll be lonesome without this. Here’s my problem. Now that I don’t have anything to battle for, what will I do? There’s nothing I know of on the horizon to compete with that.”
He paused. His face brightened. “Well, I can go swimming. And I can keep square dancing. Something happens to me when I square dance; it’s the—what do they call it?—the adrenalin. I am a top form dancer. Maybe I can go back to being the treasurer of the Broward Community Senior Center. I did that before my wife became sick, but I quit to take care of her. I always was a fine office man. Maybe I’ll become active in the Hope Lutheran Church. In other words, keep moving. Keep moving. That’s the secret.
“All I know is that I could not face my departure from this earth if I had failed to put up this fight.”
At 7:20, there came the boom of an announcement over the loudspeaker; the voice was anonymous and businesslike:
“The Silver Meteor, bound for Miami, Florida, scheduled to depart at 7:40, is ready for boarding. All passengers may now board the Silver Meteor, with stops in Alexandria … Richmond … Petersburg … Fayetteville … Florence … Charleston … Savannah … Jacksonville … Waldo … Ocala … Wildwood … Winter Haven … Sebring … West Palm Beach … Deerfield Beach … Fort Lauderdale … Hollywood … Miami.”
Edward Zepp boarded the train, located his roomette and departed for home. Within minutes of leaving the station, exhausted by the day’s excitement, he fell asleep.
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, 1979, the Pentagon issued the following statement: “Having considered the additional findings, conclusions and recommendation of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records and under the provisions of 10 U.S.C 1552, the action of the secretary of the Army on 4 December 1952 is hereby amended insofar as the character of the discharge is concerned, and it is directed: (1) That all Department of the Army records of Edward Zepp be corrected to show that he was separated from the Army of the United States on a Certificate of Honorable Discharge from the Army of the United States dated 9 November 1919 in lieu of the General Discharge Certificate of the same date now held by him.”
“In other words,” said Edward Zepp. “I was right all along.”
A week later, a copy of the Pentagon’s decision arrived at Zepp’s Margate condominium. He discovered the decision was not unanimous. One member, James Hise, had voted against him.
“I’m so mad I could kick the hell out of him. A guy like that shouldn’t be sitting on the Board. I am going to write to the Pentagon and tell them he should be thrown off the panel. It would be better to have just a head up there loaded with concrete or sawdust than this guy Hise, who doesn’t know the first thing about justice. If he can't judge better than that, he should be kicked off. He’s a menace to justice in this world.
“I’d like to go up there and bust his head wide open.”
Madeleine Blais is the author of several books, including In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, she has written for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald and many other publications.
Reprinted by permission of the author.