Ronald J. Anderson, deserter from U.S. Army, is arrested in Peace Arch Park on August 24, 1974.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 5/03/2011
  • Essay 9804
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On Saturday, August 24, 1974, Ronald James Anderson, age 31, accompanied by his wife and two children, arrives at the U.S.-Canadian border from Mission, British Columbia. At the Peace Arch Port of Entry in Blaine, Anderson, a landed immigrant in Canada, is referred to U.S. Immigration for a secondary examination to verify citizenship. A routine query through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) indicates Anderson has an outstanding federal arrest warrant for being away without leave (AWOL) from the U.S. Army. He bolts out the door and runs north into Peace Arch Park toward Canada, pursued by a half-dozen uniformed inspectors. Passing beneath the Peace Arch Monument, Anderson is captured and taken back to the U.S. border crossing. The arrest takes place on Canadian soil, however, creating an international incident. The Canadian government makes a formal request to the U.S. State Department for Anderson's return, calling the arrest inappropriate and a violation of Canadian sovereignty. He will be returned to the U.S.-Canadian border and released from custody on August 30, 1974.

Border Crossings

In 1974, the Department of Defense estimated there were approximately 15,500 Vietnam War (1964-1975) draft evaders and 12,500 military deserters at large, including some 4,500 residing in Canada. Ronald James Anderson had been absent without leave (AWOL) from the U.S. Army for 10 months when he was captured and court-martialed at Fort Lewis (Pierce County) in October 1968. He went AWOL again on November 18, 1968, after seeking classification as a conscientious objector, by walking away from a trustee work detail. Anderson fled to Canada and settled in Mission, B.C., where he worked as a carpenter foreman for the Palo Construction Company. He was classified as a landed immigrant by Canadian Immigration and was eligible to apply for citizenship in September 1974.

On Saturday afternoon, August 24, 1974, Ronald Anderson, age 31, accompanied by his wife, Marion, age 34, their 10-month-old son, Trevor, and her son by a previous marriage, Douglas Braaten, age 11, arrived at the Peace Arch Port of Entry. The Andersons were driving to Seattle to put Douglas, who had spent the summer in Canada, aboard a train to Spokane, where he lived with his father.  Afterward they planned to visit Ronald's mother, Betty Peterson, in Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula. It was a trip the Andersons had made successfully several times in the past five years.

At the primary inspection station, the Anderson family was referred to U.S. Immigration to verify citizenship.  A routine query through the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), linked to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), indicated that Ronald Anderson had an outstanding federal arrest warrant for being AWOL from the U.S. Army.  The Immigration inspector asked him to take a seat and then notified Customs Office of Investigations that he had detained a federal fugitive.

U.S. Arrest

Anderson knew immediately from the Immigration inspector's demeanor, that he was in trouble. He bolted out the side door and ran north into Peace Arch Park toward Canada, pursued by a half-dozen uniformed inspectors. Passing beneath the Peace Arch Monument, which straddled the international border, Anderson was tackled, handcuffed, and hauled back to the U.S. border station. Afterward, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent took him to the Whatcom County jail where he was held over the weekend.  On Monday, August 26, the FBI released Anderson to the U.S. Army and two Military Police officers transported him to the stockade at Fort Lewis to await court-martial.

Anderson's arrest by U.S. Customs was witnessed by several persons, however, including Vancouver Sun reporter Peter Trask, and the event was recorded in photographs and on movie film. The pictures, including one published on the front page of The Vancouver Sun, established that he was approximately 15 yards north of the Peace Arch Monument and clearly on Canadian soil when he was captured. 

Canada's Man

Anderson's attorneys, Donald Rosenbloom of Vancouver B.C. and David Shelton of Seattle, filed an official protest with the Canadian government.  After a full-scale investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Department of External Affairs determined that Anderson's arrest was illegal and a violation of Canadian sovereignty. U.S. Customs officials also admitted that the incident occurred several yards over the border. The officers mistakenly believed the "hot pursuit" doctrine was in effect, enabling police within one state to cross into another state as they chase fugitives.  The U.S. State Department determined, however, that the "hot pursuit" doctrine was clearly not applicable on the international border.  (Although Canada and the United States have an extradition treaty, draft evasion and desertion from the military are not extraditable offenses.)

On Thursday, August 29, the Canadian Department of External Affairs delivered a request to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa for the return of Anderson to Canada. On Friday morning, August 30, the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. announced that he would be turned over to Canadian authorities. At 3:25 p.m., Anderson was picked up at Fort Lewis by the Canadian Consul General from Seattle, Raymond Anderson (no relation), and driven 150 miles to the U.S.-Canadian border at Blaine. They were escorted by two unarmed Army officers in an official vehicle. At 6:20 p.m., Anderson arrived at the Douglas border crossing in British Columbia, Canada, where he was greeted by a crowd of newspaper reporters and photographers. After kissing and hugging his wife, Anderson said he was happy to be home in Canada and vowed never to return to the United States -- unless, of course, the President declared an amnesty. 

At Fort Lewis, an Army Public Information Officer (PIO) said that Anderson's return to Canada "does not change his status one iota ...  He is still on the FBI wanted list and is still subject to arrest in the U.S." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).  He added that most soldiers, convicted in a military court with being AWOL, were given a two to four month sentence of confinement in the stockade and a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge from the service.

Binding the Wounds of the War

Vice-president Gerald Rudolf Ford (1913-2006) became the 38th President of the United States on August 9, 1974, upon the resignation of Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994). His first major action was to grant former President Nixon amnesty, which he did on August 17, 1974. With America's active involvement in the Vietnam War ended, President Ford's next major action was to offer conditional amnesty to those who had evaded the draft or deserted between August 4, 1964, and March 28, 1973, the date the U.S. withdrew its last combat troops from Vietnam. (The Vietnam War was ended on April 30, 1975 with the surrender of Saigon to the Viet Cong.)

On September 17, 1974, President Ford made an official proclamation stating that those wishing rehabilitation and freedom from prosecution must surrender before January 31, 1975, (later extended to April 1, 1975). Draft evaders had to swear allegiance to the United States. and serve two years of community service. Military deserters were required to serve two years in the branch of the service they had deserted from. Out of the many thousands eligible for amnesty, only a few thousand accepted the offer.

Georgia Governor James Earl "Jimmy" Carter Jr. (b. 1924), during his 1976 presidential campaign, announced his intention to pardon all those who failed to register with Selective Service or left the U.S. to avoid military conscription. Jimmy Carter won the election and was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States on Thursday, January 20, 1977.  The following day, he followed through on his promise. The pardon, which limited eligibility to civilians who violated the Selective Service Act, was unconditional and expunged their criminal records. Military personnel who went AWOL or deserted during the Vietnam War, however, weren't included. 

Many supporters of Carter's decision believed "military resisters" should also have been pardoned by the government as an act of mercy to help bind the nation's wounds. Later that year, President Carter established a process to allow military deserters and AWOLs to apply for a limited pardon if there were no other charges pending. Military resisters, however, were never granted total and unconditional amnesty. Instead, they were automatically given undesirable discharges, prohibiting them from receiving any veterans benefits, and removed the Defense Department's absentee list.


Svein Gilje, "Arrest of Soldier Reported in Canada," The Seattle Times, August 27, 1974, p. A-7; Svein Gilje, "Ex-soldier, Back in Canada, Feels Joy, No Bitterness," Ibid., August 31, 1974, p. A-3; "Desertion Dash Ends in Stockade," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 27, 1974, p. A-9; George Foster, "Controversy Over Border Arrest," Ibid., August 28, 1974, p. A-4; George Foster, "Mounties and U.S. Probe Arrest of AWOL Soldier," Ibid., August 29, 1974, p. A-9; George Foster, "Canada Asks for Prisoner," Ibid., August 30, 1974, p. A-1; Walter Evans, George Foster, "Deserter Back in Canada; International Hassle Ends," Ibid., August 31, 1974, p. A-1; "Deserter Hopes Others Learn From His Scare," Ibid., September 1, 1974, p. A-4; "U.S. Army Deserter Jailed After Blaine Border Dash Thwarted," The Bellingham Herald, August 27, 1974, p. 1; "A Question of Boundary," Ibid., August 28, 1974, p. 1; Jim Kjeldsen, "Expatriate Goes Home," Ibid., September 1, 1974, p. 1; "Army Deserter Goes Back to Canada," The Port Angeles Daily News, September 1, 1974, p. 5; "Man Back on Canadian Soil Vows Not to Return Unless...," The Centralia-Chehalis Daily Chronicle, August 31, 1974, p. 1; "18 Month Service Proposed for Amnesty," Ibid., August 31, 1974, p. 1; Margery Hunters, "A Re-Entry Plan; Goodell Named Head of Clemency Unit," The New York Times, September 17, 1974, p. 1; William Borders, "Ford Offers Greeted Coolly by U.S. Exiles in Canada," Ibid., September 17, 1974, p. 1; Diane Henry, "Spokesmen for Draft Evaders and Veterans Groups Denounce Ford's Amnesty Plan," Ibid., September 17, 1974, p. 24; Charles Mohr, "10,000 Affected Now," Ibid., January 22, 1977, p. 1; "Carter Pardons Draft Evaders, Orders a Study of Deserters; Veterans Protest, Others Split," Ibid., January 22, 1977, p. 47; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Blaine -- Thumbnail History," "Peace Arch Park (Blaine)" (by Phil Doughtery) (accessed December 2009).

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