- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

James H. Webb Jr. rarely mentions on the campaign trail his efforts to clear the name of a black Marine convicted of mass murder in Vietnam.

But the incident tested his sense of leadership, justice and social fairness, and is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the Democratic nominee for one of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats.

“I didn’t [represent Samuel Green] so today I could tell you that,” says Mr. Webb, 60. “I just did it because I believed it was right.”

In 1971, a year after returning from the Vietnam War as a wounded hero, Mr. Webb was languishing at his desk job in Navy Secretary John H. Chafee’s office.

The 24-year-old former platoon commander was responsible for responding to inquiries into cases involving Marines convicted of war crimes in Vietnam.

“Less than a week after reporting in, he called his monitor and pleaded for a transfer,” Robert Timberg wrote in a 1995 book, “The Nightingale’s Song,” an examination of the careers of Mr. Webb, John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North and John McCain. “‘You got to get me out of here.’ he said. The monitor just laughed.”

Then Mr. Green’s case hit his desk.

On Feb. 10, 1970, Mr. Green was on a five-man patrol searching for Viet Cong in the village of Son Thang, where they came across unarmed women and children.

Following their patrol leader’s orders, the Marines opened fire with M-16s and M-79 grenade launchers, killing 16.

Mr. Green had been in Vietnam 11 days. This was his first — and last — combat patrol.

In separate courts-martial, three Marines were acquitted. One of them had testified against the others and the patrol leader, who was awaiting the Silver Star, in part, for saving Mr. North’s life.

Mr. Green was one of two Marines who were represented by military lawyers and convicted of murder.

Mr. Webb thought the cases had too many irregularities.

His pawed through the entire trial record his first year at Georgetown University Law Center in 1972, and later wrote an award-winning article called “The Sad Conviction of Sam Green: The Case for the Reasonable and Honest War Criminal.”

“It is now generally recognized that our country’s overall policy failures created a situation whereby a woman or child would take up arms against our forces in the very land we purported to be aiding,” he wrote in the article. “We must not compound this error by punishing the young individuals who were placed by policy-makers into such an environment, required to make hairline decisions regarding the participatory status of a hostile citizenry, and made these decisions in good faith and reliance on the wisdom of experienced supervisors.”

In his third year of law school, Mr. Webb polished his arguments in a lawsuit filed in federal court, saying, among other things, that the makeup of the court should have included an infantryman with combat experience.

The lawsuit failed, but the judge wrote a letter to Navy Secretary J. William Middendorf recommending Mr. Green be granted clemency.

Mr. Middendorf responded with a form letter. A month later, Mr. Green killed himself.

In 1978, Mr. Webb went to the Board of Correction of Naval Records in a last-ditch effort to upgrade Mr. Green’s dishonorable discharge to a general discharge.

“Eight years after the shootings and three years after Green’s suicide, Mr. Webb wrote to Mrs. Green: ‘At last Sam’s name is cleared. This is a small solace, I know. … I only regret we were unable to do more for him sooner,’” Mr. Timberg wrote.

Mrs. Green responded with a Christmas card: “My son Samuel Jr. is happy in heaven and grave about this.”

Today, Mr. Webb says the principles of leadership, justice and social fairness outweighed the negative perceptions that might be drawn from the case. “I basically said, ‘I’m not saying this guy is an angel. I’m saying he is not a murderer. In my view, there’s just too many inconsistencies in here.’”

“What had happened was horrible, but who would be able to judge it in the eyes of someone who had 11 days in Vietnam and was getting an order?” Mr. Webb told The Washington Times.

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