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Dick Cotterill: My Difficult Decision to Desert

I was born in Ithaca, New York in 1950 and grew up on a dairy farm near there. In June of 1969, after completing my freshman year at Cornell University, I decided not to return in the fall. Many of my high school classmates were in the military and many were already in Vietnam at that time. I felt a patriotic duty to serve my country and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for four years.

My first year as a Marine was pretty much all training: basic training, combat training, and aviation electronics training. I became a fire control technician, working on F4 phantom jet fighters. My job was to keep the radar and fire control electronics working properly. We had sidewinder and sparrow missiles for air to air combat; rockets, napalm and bombs for air to ground operations.

During my second year in the Corps, I was stationed with operational squadrons and the reality of my situation began to become a moral burden. As I met more and more Marines returning from Vietnam it became obvious that the war was a mistake, unjust and immoral. Eventually, I reached the moral and ethical decision that I could not complete my enlistment. I applied for discharge as a conscientious objector and when that failed, I decided to desert. At that time I had very little knowledge of Canada and its position as a refuge for US war resisters. I knew that desertion could lead to imprisonment and a criminal record, but was firm in my conviction that I could not in good conscience complete my enlistment. I wanted out and I knew the act of deserting made a positive statement regarding my objection to the war in Vietnam

To be welcomed in Canada as a permanent resident and later as a citizen was a tremendous gift for which I remain thankful to the Canadian people.

Not a day passes, without feeling blessed. After becoming a Canadian citizen, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States and offered an amnesty to US deserters from the Vietnam era. I traveled to Washington, D.C. and was given a general discharge from the US Marine Corps which was later upgraded to include “Under Honorable Conditions.”

I have lived in Nova Scotia since 1972. My wife was born in Nova Scotia. We have two sons and two grandsons. We own a small family business and employ a few people. We volunteer in our local community and contribute to several charities each year.

Life in Canada is wonderful. As an immigrant, one feels a special blessing every day.

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