by Jim Warren, Lexington Herald-Leader. September 7, 2006
Darrell Anderson, the young Lexington soldier who deserted to Canada last year after being wounded in Iraq, wants to come home.
Anderson, now 24, has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Iraq while living in Canada, appearing at peace rallies and attacking the Bush administration in interviews with international publications. Earlier this year, he married a Canadian woman, which his mother said should guarantee him permanent residency in Canada.
But Lexington’s Anita Anderson confirmed that her son now wants to return to the United States sometime within the next few weeks. He could be arrested as soon as he crosses the border, she said. If not, he plans to travel to Kentucky, turn himself in at Fort Knox, and face whatever punishment the Army imposes, she said.
A number of peace groups and activists — possibly including Cindy Sheehan — will meet him when he crosses the U.S. border, she said. She said she expects considerable press coverage.
Darrell Anderson was on a trip to northern Canada yesterday and unavailable for comment.
But Anita Anderson said she has urged him to stay in Canada.
“I’ve tried to talk him out of coming back, because he’s probably going to get sponsorship in Canada now that he is married to a Canadian girl,” she said. “But he’s constantly stressed out and worried, and he feels like he can’t live out the rest of his life this way.”
She said the family is hoping her son can simply apply for a less-than-honorable discharge.
According to Fort Knox media relations officer Gini Sinclair, Darrell Anderson could face any of several punishments, from a dishonorable discharge up to a court martial and time in prison.
A representative of an organization that advises soldiers in such situations said yesterday Darrell Anderson’s track record as a public critic of the Army and U.S. actions in Iraq might not help his chances of getting off with light punishment.
Anderson joined the Army in January 2003 and was sent to Iraq almost exactly a year later with the 1st Armored Division. He was wounded by a roadside bomb and awarded the Purple Heart.
Anderson came home on leave in late 2004, after his outfit completed its Iraq tour and returned to its base in Germany. He said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress by then and had become disillusioned with the war. Rather than return to his Army unit and the possibility of another Iraq tour, he fled to Toronto in January 2005.
In Lexington, news of Darrell Anderson’s desertion outraged newspaper readers and callers to talk-radio shows. But in Canada, he quickly became a star speaker for the War Resisters Support Campaign, a group opposing the Iraq war and backing U.S. deserters seeking asylum north of the border. Earlier this year, he married Gail Greer, a Canadian woman he met working with the war resisters campaign.
His new wife will accompany him to the U.S., Anita Anderson said.
She said her son has been unable to get a Canadian work permit and therefore can’t support himself. The family sends him money, she said. Canada also hasn’t yet granted him asylum or refugee status.
Anita Anderson said her son’s post-traumatic stress seems to be getting worse, with nightmares and panic attacks. Finally, she said, he wants to make a more formal statement of his opposition to the Iraq war. For all those reasons, she said, he now wants to come home.
“I think a lot of it is that he feels guilt for having harmed innocent people in the fighting in Iraq,” she said. “He feels that if he does jail time, he deserves it because he shouldn’t have shot innocent people.
“He feels that his fight is with the Bush administration and the policies in Iraq. If he comes back here and says something, it kind of frees him for the rest of his life. People have said he is a coward for going to Canada. Well, he’s coming back. He’s not a coward.”
Jim Fennerty, a Chicago attorney who is representing Darrell Anderson, said yesterday that he will go to Canada and accompany him across the border.
Under military law, a soldier who deserts in wartime can be sentenced to death, but that hasn’t happened since World War II. Prison terms of up to five years can be imposed.
In one recent case, Sgt. Kevin Benderman of Hinesville, Ga., was sentenced to 15 months for failing to accompany his unit when it deployed to Iraq. He was released last month.
Sinclair said it isn’t automatic that Anderson would be immediately arrested and scheduled for a court-martial. She said deserters can request either to stay in the Army or to be discharged, although the Army makes the final decision.