By Peter Ross Range
March 18, 1974 12:00 PM

When he appeared in court his skin had the pallid softness of a man who has seen little sunlight. His military blouse covered a paunch that had developed during his confinement. An army barber had obviously been called in to whack off the sides of his ample hair, giving him the unflattering white-walls of a recruit.

Almost three years ago Lt. William Calley Jr. had stood in another courtroom in his behalf. On March 29, 1971 he was convicted of murdering at least 22 Vietnamese civilians in a hamlet called Mylai and sentenced by a military court to life imprisonment, later commuted by the army to 20 years. Now he was in the federal courthouse in Columbus, Ga., arguing that he should be let free on bond pending review of his conviction by the courts and by the Secretary of the Army and then by the President himself.

Calley’s trial had plunged the nation into deep debate over the morality of the Vietnam War, and his sentence set off another furor. He had spent only three nights in the stockade when President Nixon, responding to public outcry that Calley had only followed orders and that his superiors were going unpunished, ruled that Calley be allowed to serve his jail time in his apartment until all appeals were exhausted. From this curious cell, the federal court three weeks ago ordered him released. Yet, free on bond, Calley, now 30, seemed reluctant to go out.

Perhaps it was understandable for a man who had been confined for so long to the low, redbrick building within Fort Benning that is typical of junior-officer housing. It is cramped, impersonal, well-used but almost compulsively orderly. Calley’s small apartment—two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bath—faces the street.

An unarmed guard was posted inside the living room around the clock, in eight-hour shifts. But the guards had nothing to do except sit in an easy chair and watch color television with their prisoner. The MPs, usually sergeants, addressed Calley as “Sir.” Across the street, a military Jeep was assigned day and night, maintaining radio contact with the stockade and occasionally patrolling Arrowhead Road in front of the apartment. It was as much to protect Calley from the curious, or the deranged, as it was to ensure his confinement. There was never any serious fear that he would flee.

Calley’s telephone was replaced by a military line. His family and the handful of friends who were placed on his “authorized visitors” list would call his number but instead get an MP at the stockade. Authorized callers were put through to Calley. Visiting hours at the apartment were like the stockade’s, 2 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Only Anne Moore, an auburn-haired Red Cross recreation worker who had become Calley’s girlfriend before the trial, got around that restriction. Calley assigned her power of attorney so she could visit him daily, carry messages to his counsel, handle secretarial chores and do the shopping. Though the army picked up the rent on his $111-a-month apartment, Calley chose not to accept the offer of military meals, which would have been brought to his apartment. Instead, Anne carried in bags of groceries and Calley expanded his cooking talents. His specialties were steak, egg dishes and vegetable concoctions.

Calley had been a drinking man, the consummate host, but in confinement his padded bar in the corner of the living room was removed. Apparently Calley enjoyed an occasional drink anyway. During his bail hearing, Anne Moore was cross-examined about an incident a year ago when Calley was seen drinking a beer. The government prosecutor wanted to show that Calley was not the model prisoner his lawyers were making him out to be. But the line of questioning was suddenly dropped when it came out that a friendly military guard, not Anne, had brought the beer.

For diversion Calley acquired a bothersome myna bird named Joe, whose screeching catcalls and “Hey, I’m Joe” could be heard all the way across the street. Calley also raised a lively beagle pup named Alexander. He purchased several large tropical fish tanks and read up on fish. He built remote control model airplanes but didn’t have enough room to fly them. He dug a tiny garden in the backyard outside his kitchen door in summer and kept his houseplants in a makeshift, plastic-covered 6’x6′ greenhouse in winter. He tried to exercise indoors or in the yard.

Through his Venetian blinds he saw three bright Georgia springs arrive but could never go out among the loblolly pines to admire them. He watched other soldiers hitching up their outboards for weekends at Lake Harding, the nearby reservoir where he used to enjoy water-skiing. Deep in debt, Calley had sold his own boat and battered Volkswagen.

The first real sign that he had been freed was a telephone lineman who reinstalled his contact with the outside world. Calley ventured out to dinner at his attorney’s home on his first night, but stayed home the second and third. Finally he went as far as nearby Columbus, where he was seen shopping for shoes. Until he gets permission from the army to talk, he has remained silent among strangers and newsmen.

Even his pretrial appetite for partying seems dulled. Shortly after his release a friend telephoned to say he wanted to drop over for a celebration drink. He was politely told he would have to bring his own liquor. And when he did, Calley drank only beer.

Advertisement