ODOM, CHESTER RANDY II REMAINS RETURNED OCT 3, 2000 ANNOUNCED WITHOUT A NAME APRIL 6, 2001
Name: Chester Randy Odom II Rank/Branch: E1/US Army Unit: C CO 1 BN 52 INF 23 DIV Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Date of Loss: 25 April 1971 (710425 USAEREC LIST) Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: Status (in 1973): AWOL Category: Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2002.
SYNOPSIS: In Vietnam, military experts devised a system to try to relieve the battle fatigue experienced in earlier wars by those who served long tours with their units intact. In Vietnam, soldiers were rotated after roughly one-year tours. The practice had noble intent, but it served to isolate the soldier and interrupted continuity. Virtually as soon as a man learned the ropes, he was shipped home and a green replacement arrived to fill the gap. Some were quite literally, in the jungles one day and at home the next. The emotional impact was terrific and thousands of veterans are dealing with it two decades later.
Vietnam was also a limited political war, and had peculiar problems: a vague enemy, restrictive rules of engagement, an uncertain objective, non-military State Department minds directing many aspects of the war. In certain periods of the war, military morale was lower than perhaps any other time in our history.
Adding to these factors was the extremely young age of the average soldier shipped to Vietnam. For example, the average combatant's age in World War II was 25 years, while Vietnam soldiers were 19. The young fighters became jaded -- or old -- or died -- long before their time.
For various reasons, some soldiers deserted or even defected to the enemy. Their counterparts in the U.S. fled to Canada, manufactured physical or mental problems, or extended college careers to escape the draft.
There are only a handful of American deserters or AWOL (Absent Without Leave) maintained on missing lists. At least one of these was known to have fallen in love with a woman whom he later learned was a communist. Another fled because he had scrapped with a superior and feared the consequences. This man was ultimately declared dead, and his AWOL record expunged. Most are on the list of missing because there is some doubt that their AWOL status is valid.
There is little information regarding those listed as AWOL on the missing lists. For instance, the Army does not maintain a missing file of Private Chester R. Odom II, reported missing on April 25, 1971. Odom's status was declared Absent Without Leave until his name disappeared from missing lists in the spring of 1982. His story and his fate are unknown.
Some of the reports among the over 10,000 received relating to Americans missing or prisoner in Southeast Asia have to do with deserters, although there is no evidence they have been asked if they want to come home. In light of the amnesty granted draft dodgers by the United States Government, can we be less forgiving of them?
Name added to the WALL May 3, 2001.
National Alliancwe of Families Lynn O'Shea 08/18/2002 07:20 PM -0500
Way back I mentioned I was doing some investigating into the circumstances of the loss of Chester Randy Odom, carried as a deserter, from the time of his disappearance till the time his remains were identified. At the time of identification his name was added to the wall.
I contacted the Army to ask what information they had that changed his status from deserter and allowed his name to be added to the Wall. I never received a response.
Based on information found in the Library of Congress, his IDPF, and a paper published by scientists from AFDIL and CIL-HI (and available on the internet,) I have learned the following:
Odom had a checkered civilian past with many run-ins with the law. His enlistment seemed to be an attempt to get his act together and straighten out his life. It didn't seem to work.
His army career was equally checkered. He has several stateside AWOLs in his records. There are also AWOLs recorded in Vietnam. In addition to the Vietnam AWOLs, he was charged with and found guilty of striking a senior officer and threatening to kill another. There is also a mention of accidently shooting another enlisted man but there is no documentation of formal charges being brought in that incident.
He was suspected of drug use and sent for evaluation. None of the documentation I have confirms the drug use.
At the time his disappearance was noticed, 0600 - March 27th, he was awaiting a discharge under AR 635-212. According to a letter dated April 25, 1971, the dated he was DOR, "Pvt Odom was assigned to this unit on 4 September 1970. From that day on he was a problem. He has received article 15's for being AWOL and a Court Martial for assaulting an officer. He was suspected of using drugs quite heavily, although a visit with a psychiatrist proved him quite sane and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. At the time of his departure from LZ Stinson, Pvt Odom was pending a discharge from the Army under AR 635-212."
The memo prepared by Dr. Tom Holland of CIL-HI, dated 3 August 2000, makes reference to the discharge stating "On 27 March 1971 Private Chester r. Odom III disappeared while on duty at Landing Zone Stinson near Tinh Binh village, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of [South] Vietnam. At the time, PVT ODOM was awaiting a disciplinary discharge from the Army."
The CIL-HI - AFDIL paper titled "Witnesses Assist In Identifying Remains of a Missing Deserter," states: "On March 27, 1971, a private in the Unites States Army disappeared near Tinh Binh village, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of [South] Vietnam. At the time, he was pulling guard duty on a landing zone." It is interesting that this report refers to Odom as Pvt. John Doe "to protect the privacy of the family."
His remains were returned in 1988 by unilateral repatriation. The remains did not match any known POW/MIAs. According to CILHI documentation, at that time they did not have access to records of the deserters.
Unable to match the remains to any known POW/MIA, CIL-HI began looking at the records of deserters and were able to match the 1988 remains to Chester Odom. Identification was made in August of 2000 and accepted by the family on 3 October 2000. It was not announced publically until the spring of 2001.
CIL-HI correlated the remains to Odom based on race, consistency with dental records, approximate height, witness information regarding capture, time of death and location of remains at the time of recovery. Mt-DNA was also used in the identification process.
According to the JTF-FA report of a unilateral Vietnamese investigation, several secondhand witnesses told of the capture of a black American in or near the village of Tinh Binh. According to the JTF-FA translation, one witness stated " a black American soldier, who he heard was addicted to drugs, came looking for drugs during a craving, and was captured by Tinh Binh guerrillas."
Another witness stated "that one black American traveling from NAI Dat Base was captured. While being transported from the area, the American resisted the guerrillas, so he was shot to death in Tinh Try Village."
Odom was not lost in battle. He made a choice to leave his base, for reasons known only to him. Drug use could certainly be suspected. However there is no documentation to prove that Odom used drugs.
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, on April 16, 2001.
I have documents to back all this up. I don't know what to make of this. What is the qualification for burial in a National cemetery, especially Arlington? There is no question Odom died in and at the hands of the Viet Cong. Yet, Odom was awaiting discharge under less than honorable circumstances and all indications seem to be he chose to leave his post. None of the documentation indicates any evidence that he was taken by force.
Did he intend to return to the LZ, but got picked up by the VC instead? We will never know the answer to that question.
Do we give him the benefit of the doubt?
I was very torn as to whether any of this information should be publicized until similar information showed p in the press just prior to Thanksgiving, 2002.
As of April 16 2001, his mother was still alive. But, after looking at the documentation, I am not sure that they didn't bury a deserter, in Arlington. If they had buried him any where else, this might not bother me, as much as it does.
What do you think?