James Thomas Rowan is an attorney in Oklahoma City. He was drafted into the United States Army before attending the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He was in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps from 1974-1982. He worked as a public defender for Oklahoma County and for the Indigent Defense System in Norman before becoming a solo practioner.
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Below is a short selection of the interview with James Rowan. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Below is an excerpt from Mr. Rowan's interview and a link to download the full transcript.
KEK: Tell me about your time in the JAG Corps, first, did they give you any kind of training going in?
JTR: Yes, we went through four months at Charlesville, Virginia and at that time there four very gifted lawyers who later on became law professors at very prestigious colleges. It was Imwinkelreid, Gianelli, Gilligan, and Lederer were all army captains and they went on to write books on evidence, but they taught us. And it was a very intensive training for four months primarily courtroom rules because most army lawyers try court martials, some of them go into specialized areas. My first job was with the 82nd Airborne Division. I was very impressed by the fact that I was originally assigned to Augusta, Georgia at Fort Gordon but an airborne paratrooper came to talk to us about how glorious it was to be a paratrooper and so, with a couple of strokes of a pen I was diverted to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. And that was very exciting because that was a very elite unit, the people were very much motivated and most of the lawyers were single, like myself. We had a wonderful social life there and I really enjoyed it. One of my tasks was, my colonel called me in on a Thursday and said, “I want you to be in Camp Atterberry, Indiana Monday morning, on a temporary assignment,” which lasted four months for President Ford’s clemency program. At that time in 1975, many people had deserted during the Vietnam War and there were actually two clemency programs. One for people who ran away from the draft and never were sworn in and another for army deserters who, for one reason or another, left after they had been sworn in which is of course a crime, a capital crime actually at that time. So, President Ford in his wisdom devised a clemency program where people could come back, many of them were living overseas. So, Camp Atterberry in Indiana was kind of a reserve post; later on they moved to Fort Benjamin Harrison which was the army administrative center. The largest building in the army was the Pentagon, the second largest is Building 1 at Fort Benjamin Harrison and that’s where they keep all the army records. So, we met there and there were lawyers from the army, air force, marines, navy and we got people coming back with a promise that if you came back as a deserter, then you could be processed in 24 hours and receive a undesirable discharge which could ripen into a clemency discharge which was undesirable spelled a little differently if you did some community service. And essentially it was an idea that we were going to heal the country because there was a lot of division back then. Some of my best memories are... we, as lawyers, were required to give a briefing to the incoming returnees in the morning and then an exit briefing in the evening, and the idea was to get them done in 24 hours. Twenty-four hours, that was the mantra from the administrative people and the military people. Well, as you know every human story is complicated. So, there came through a person who in interviewing him had won a silver star in Vietnam and then deserted afterwards. And I thought, “Well, maybe this guy deserves a break.” Well, the commanding general of Fort Benjamin Harrison was a two-star general, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was very attuned to this kind of thing. And so, we were able to get him a general discharge which allowed him to receive veterans’ benefits because he had actually been a genuine hero as an enlisted man in Vietnam. Then, I was able to get him a GED by taking him downtown to Indianapolis, Indiana and having him take the GED test because he lacked that in order to…..he wanted to come back into the army but the board said no, but you can have a general discharge. Another case was a man who had run away when his conscientious objector status had been denied and he lived in Canada and came down. So, the commanding general said that yes, he was denied due process. In denying his conscientious objector status he was required to receive a chaplain, and several other people had to sign off but an hour later, the bus was leaving. They put him on the bus, gave him a rifle, and off he went to Vietnam. Well he deserted because he thought he was mistreated. Well I got a wonderful letter from his family in California. They said, I don’t remember the details but it’s written on my heart, but they said they were happy to get their son back under any circumstances, but coming back with an honorable discharge “means a lot to us.” And still, to this day, I think that’s the most wonderful thing that happened there.