So Here’s the Perspective

Bill Neinast

Every time I see or hear Donald Trump, I think of  Willard Pearson.

Explaining this phenomenon requires a personal story, something I have avoided in this column for 20 years.  With Trump fading out of the spotlight, however, I am making an exception this time.

In 1971, I was a lieutenant colonel in the office of the Staff Judge Advocate, U.S. Army Europe, in Heidelberg, Germany.  I was called into the personnel office and told that I was being reassigned to a colonel’s position as the Staff Judge Advocate of V Corps in Frankfurt.  I was also told that the corps commander did not like lawyers.

Lieutenant General Willard Pearson was the Corps Commander.  At his first staff/commander meeting after assuming command, he remarked, “I run this outfit, not the lawyers.”

Here is a verbatim account of my reporting in to General Pearson:

“Colonel Neinast reporting for duty Sir.”

“Did Tenhet (my predecessor) tell you my policy on Chapter 10 discharges?”

“Yes, Sir, and I do not agree with it.”

“Well that’s it. Dismissed!”

A Chapter 10 Discharge was an Undesirable Discharge in lieu of a court-martial. It was used when an unfit or undesirable soldier was charged with a relatively minor offense for which the punishment was a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable Discharge with six months or more confinement.

I had to get the general’s signature on a request for a Chapter 10 several times a week.  I would have his disapproval ready, but before handing him the file, I would recommend that the discharge be approved.

After several weeks of this, General Pearson remarked one day, “You are so persistent on this, what are the other commanders doing?”

I replied that I would get a memo to him on the subject.  In the memo, I reported that all other commanders with general court-martial jurisdiction in Germany were approving the discharges and noted the personnel effect on my office if all the cases had to be tried.

After reading the memo, the general said, “OK, you’ve convinced me.  Notify the field.” 

Subsequently, I recommended that the general take a specific action concerning a senior officer in the command.  He disagreed and told me what action he wanted.  He also wanted the action to go out that day.

I already had a helicopter scheduled for a visit with the commander of the brigade along the “Iron Curtain” separating East and West Germany in the Fulda Gap.  So I dropped  the file on my deputy’s desk with instructions to change it the way the general instructed, and to get it to General Pearson for signature before the end of the day.

Back in the office the next day, I looked at the file and saw that what the general had signed was not what he had directed.   An aggravating factor was that my deputy told me that when he went to get the general’s signature, he was in a staff meeting.  Because of the urgency of the matter, my deputy was allowed to enter the meeting.  When the file was presented to General Pearson for signature, he asked, “Is this ready to go?”   When my deputy answered, “Yes, Sir,” Pearson remarked “That’s what I like about my lawyer; I don’t have to check things he does.”

So back to the general’s office with hat in hand.

Here is another verbatim account of that meeting:

 “Sir, I screwed up on the Jones matter.  Here is what you signed.”

“Have you determined what caused the mistake?”

“Yes, Sir.”

‘Have you taken action to keep it from happening again?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“OK, what’s next?”

The case was not mentioned again.

After some months serving with General Pearson I had to get his signature on a file when he was busy with a number of meetings with various commanders and German officials.  I met him at the heliport and rode with him to his quarters.  While sitting in his bedroom as he changed uniforms, he remarked, “Bill, I don’t know what is going to happen to this army when guys like you and me have to retire.”

It was my privilege to have General Pearson pin the eagles on my shoulders when I was promoted to colonel.  Obviously, we had become close friends, not just lawyer, client.  We stayed in contact for some time after his retirement.

So here’s the perspective.

With my principles and attitude, how long would I have remained part of a Donald Trump team?



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