Court-Martial of U.S Soldier James Roberson

About the court-martial of U.S. soldier James Roberson who was unjustly tried following his service in Wolr War II.


Since the beginning of W.W. II, more than a million servicemen have become familiar with the acronym snafu and its application to injustices within the military system. Among other things, the letters stand for "situation normal, all fouled up." The case of James Roberson is no less incredible than that of the Fort Riley, Kan., inductee who was found to be only 12 years old. They hid him in solitary for 3 months.

Young Roberson was sworn into military service in the early days of W.W. II. He was 18 years old. By the end of his enlistment, he had served with exemplary courage, earning a citation, 4 air medals, and the Distinguished Flying Cross, as a navy aerial gunner.

Then in 1947, he was honorably discharged. Out of service, Roberson was unsure of what he wanted to do. As day after lonely day passed uneventfully, he decided to reenlist in the Navy. The officer handling the reenlistment informed him that because he had not conformed to certain unexplained regulations, he would not be entitled to paid leave, travel allowance, or the usual bonus. This edict didn't set well with Roberson, and he uttered some sharp words. The officer order Roberson confined to quarters.

His reenlistment papers not completed, and relying on his honorable discharge, he decided to go back to Iowa and think it over. He had no sooner arrived home than he was arrested and brought to trial on charges of desertion, breaking arrest, disobeying an officer, drunkenness, and conduct prejudicial to the service.

The Court-Martial. The well-oiled wheels of military justice slipped quickly into high gear. Roberson was thwarted each time he tried to bring up his honorable discharge. In record time, he was convicted of all charges and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. After 9 months, he was released on probation. Convinced that the Navy must know of his original discharge by now, he once more went home to Iowa.

History repeated itself. He was arrested a 2nd time and again imprisoned. His parents hired a civilian attorney who obtained a writ of habeas corpus. He was released on the orders of a Federal court judge who ruled that the Navy had no jurisdiction over James Roberson.

A climax to the Roberson affair came in 1954. In October, the U.S. Court of Claims acknowledged that Roberson had been convicted unjustly, and imprisoned illegally. For this inconvenience, he was to be awarded a cash settlement of $5,000, but for Roberson the snafu had run full circle. Young James Roberson died 2 months before the U.S. Court of Claims advised his attorney of its decision.

Significance. The questionable measures used by the military to cure disciplinary ills often trigger the side effect of snafu cases. James Roberson is only one example of such cases.

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