Alleged U.S. Army deserter held in Lincoln County

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Authorities in Lincoln County are holding a 68-year-old man accused of being a Vietnam Era U.S. Army deserter.

Law enforcement personnel took Gary James Armstrong into custody while he attempted to cross the border from Canada on Dec. 27. Few other details about his arrest or the charges he faces have been made public.

He is currently being held at Lincoln County Detention Center pending transfer to an unidentified outside law enforcement agency.

Armstrong is listed as one of 1,084 known deserters from the Army that are publicized online. According to the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point’s website, Armstrong held the rank of private when he allegedly fled the service in August 1971.

Officials at the Army Deserter Information Point declined to comment further on the case and refused to release any information related to Armstrong’s desertion.

Punishment for desertion varies, although the maximum penalty — during times of declared war — is execution.

Edward D. Slovik, the only member of the U.S. armed forces executed for a military offense since the Civil War, was put to death via firing squad in France in January 1945, according to Stars and Stripes.

And a 2014 report by PBS NewsHour indicated that Army officials rarely prosecute deserters. At the time, about 20,000 soldiers were listed as having deserted since 2006 in the wake of heavy fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

NewsHour reported that the Army prosecuted just about 1,900 cases.

The U.S. Marine Corps took a harder stance on deserters in the mid-2000s. Then head of the Corps’ Absentee Collection Center, Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart told news outlets he was committed to tracking down deserters, including cold cases.

“I have a different leadership style than the guys who have had this job,” he told reporters in 2006 after a former Marine accused of deserting the Corps 38 years prior was caught crossing from British Columbia into Idaho.

“My job is to catch deserters. And that’s what I do,” he told Florida’s St. Petersburg Times.

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