A disgraced US Navy sailor who went AWOL from the USS Intrepid and defected to the Soviet Union in protest of the Vietnam War is coming out of the shadows for the first time in decades- this time hoping his story will inspire a new generation of anti-war activists.
One of four deserters from the Intrepid (later dubbed the “Intrepid Four”), Craig W. Anderson slipped away from his ship while docked in Japan in 1967. Destroying their uniforms and ID cards, the four sailors referred to themselves as “patriotic deserters” and disappeared into the busy Tokyo streets.
Slipping into civilian clothes and sleeping in a subway station, Anderson and his three fellow deserters knew they were always at risk of being captured, with American and Japanese Military Police constantly looking for them.
“They were conscious of the fact this was a big thing they were doing,” said Ernest Young, a retired Chinese history professor at the University of Michigan who met with the Intrepid Four soon after they went AWOL.
The four would soon give a tape to a Japanese television producer. On the tape, Anderson would give a statement to the world.
“You are looking at four deserters, four patriotic deserters from the United States Armed Forces,” he said. “Throughout history, the term ‘deserter’ has applied to cowards, traitors and misfits. We are not concerned with categories or labels. We have reached the point where we must stand up for what we believe to be the truth.”
Before the video aired, the men were whisked away to The Soviet Union aboard a freighter, equipped with visitor’s passes to get behind the Iron Curtain.
Arriving in the Siberian port city of Nahodka, the four were met by KGB agents who kept them full of vodka on the long trip to Moscow. Upon their arrival, they were hailed as heroes and awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.
Heading over to Sweden for a few years before yearning to go home again, Anderson re-entered the US via the Canadian border (back then, passports were not required) and made his way back to San Jose, California.
However, he did not receive a warm welcome home. Since his desertion, his mother had turned to drink and his brother wanted nothing to do with him.
He was outright against me,” Anderson recalled. “We never repaired that.”
Anderson claims his reason for desertion stemmed from an anti-war protest he attended in Berkeley, where he came to believe the Vietnam War was unjust. Conflicted between a family tradition of military service and his own personal beliefs, he took the plunge, sacrificing his family and personal freedoms in the process.
Not long after returning to California, Anderson was approached by two men in suits.
“They said, ‘Mr. Anderson?’” he recalled. “And I knew right away.”
Anderson spent nine months in the brig, being hospitalized for psychiatric reasons after going on a hunger strike. While military prosecutors wanted to give him a four-year sentence, the judge simply dismissed him with a dishonorable discharge.
Following his bad conduct discharge, the disgraced sailor would later live in a tent with his now-ex wife in rural California. Following their divorce, Anderson became a songwriter and author, writing books about UFOs and aliens while living in Mexico under the pseudonym Will Hart.
In 2015, Anderson met Kathleen Watterson in a political chatroom. Becoming fast friends, he decided to move to Nevada to be closer to her.
Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to hide his secret forever, Mr. Hart introduced himself to Watterson as Mr. Anderson.
“I have something to tell you,” he told her. “You’ve probably seen me before. My real name is Craig Anderson. I’m one of the Intrepid Four.”
Since then, Anderson is considering visiting the Intrepid, which is now a floating museum docked in New York City. He recently spoke to another member of the Intrepid Four (John Barilla), who lives in Canada. The other two members still reside in Sweden.
“I recognized his voice,” Barilla said. “It was still there, the old Craig, after 40 years.”
According to The New York Times, Barilla said he enjoyed reliving the adventure with his old friend.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “I didn’t realize that when I was in it.”
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