Former Marine freed, says arrest for desertion was a mistake
By Dan Herbeck
Updated: 10/02/07 8:12 AM

A South Buffalo man says he was wrongly arrested last week on charges of deserting the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Gary Whiting, 59, claimed Monday he was jailed in Buffalo for two days and then flown in handcuffs to a military court in Quantico, Va. - all because of a paperwork error from four decades ago.

"The Marines made a mistake, and when they found out about the mistake, they released me," Whiting told The Buffalo News. "I'm thinking about suing, but I still have very positive feelings about the Marines. . . . I will always consider myself a Marine."

Whiting described the two days and nights in the Erie County Holding Center, which he described as "crowded and filthy," as the worst of the ordeal.

Whiting admitted that he was absent without leave - or AWOL - from the Marines for a time in 1967. But he said he returned to duty and received an honorable discharge in 1968.

"When I was taken down to Quantico, the Marines checked my record and found out that they had made a mistake and never canceled the warrant that was issued when I was AWOL," Whiting said. "They released me from Quantico and gave me a ride to the airport so I could go home."

Did the Marines track down and jail Whiting because of a charge that should have been erased from his record 40 years ago?

The News was unable to verify Whiting's version of events because the Marines refused to comment on the charges against him or the status of the case. Whiting said he could provide no written documentation because "the Marines told me they will send it to me next week."

"Unfortunately, I am unable to talk openly about the specific case," said Maj. Jay Delarosa, a spokesman for the Marine Corps at the Pentagon.

Delarosa declined to confirm or deny any of Whiting's claims. He sent The News some general information that stated that the Marines are engaged in a "deserter collection effort," which includes tracking down 125 deserters from the Vietnam War era.

Officials of the U.S. Marshals Service in Buffalo said they arrested Whiting on Sept. 24 at a home on Mesmer Street on the desertion charges filed by the Marines.

Any disagreement over the charges is strictly between Whiting and the Marines, marshals said.

Erie County Undersheriff Brian D. Doyle said Whiting was treated no differently than any other prisoner in the Holding Center. He said the jail is crowded but has a 24-hour cleaning staff and is not filthy.

Whiting, who described himself as a retired research technician who worked at a pharmaceutical company, said he never served overseas during the Vietnam War.