SAN JOSE, Calif. -- An American Navy sailor who jumped ship and fled to the Soviet Union with three of his shipmates during the Vietnam War now says they were confused in their action and had been exploited for political purposes by the Russians.
Craig Anderson, 33, believes he is the only one of the 'Intrepid Four' defectors who has returned home to face the music and restart his life. He told his story to the San Jose Mercury-News, which published the account Sunday.
'We were exploited, pure and simple,' he said. 'First by this group in Japan who were promoting their left-wing ideology, and then by the Russians. That part was a mistake.'
Anderson said he had only six months to serve in the Navy when he and the other defectors sat in a Tokyo bar on Oct. 23, 1967, and decided not to go back to the carrier U.S.S. Intrepid, which was headed for the Gulf of Tonkin. He was 20 then.
'I was depressed and introverted and asking a thousand questions,' he said.
The others were John Barilla, 20, of Baltimore, Richard D. Bailey, 19, Jacksonville, Fla., and Michael A. Lindner, 19, Mount Pocono, Pa.
They didn't like Navy life and didn't like the war they were in, Anderson told the newspaper. They were not pro-Communist, or even pro-North Vietnam, he said.
'We didn't know what we were doing. It was so spontaneous we hadn't even drawn out our money. We were politically disinterested, apolitical.'
He said a group of people in Japan who had their own political motives took them under their wing.
'We really got picked up in this current ... They were political scientists, authors, intellectuals. We were in completely over our heads ... And we were becoming more dependent on them. They were hiding us, feeding us.'
Anderson said the Japanese group put them before television cameras to denounce the war and then offered to smuggle them aboard a ship to the Soviet Union.
'I was petrified,' he said. 'We were all very skeptical about going to Russia ... We thought 'What are we doing?' We had an identity crisis. Here we were, U.S. Navy men aboard a Russian ship.'
In Moscow, the four again went on television and denounced the war. Later they were sent to Sweden where they began to settle down because they believed they would never see the United States again.
The other three are believed to be still there, but in 1970 Anderson said, 'I started to see the tide was turning. I decided 'I'm going to go back and fight it.''
A year later, after sneaking through Canada with an American girlfriend, he planned to turn himself in, but delayed his surrender because the girl was pregnant.
He was arrested by the FBI in San Francisco March 30, 1972. After eight months in jail he was sentenced to three years probation and given a dishonorable discharge.
Anderson now lives in a cabin in the California coastal mountains. He said his view of the Vietnam War has been vindicated, but he regrets that he and the other Intrepid crewmen allowed themselves to be used.
Anderson's attorney, John Vaisey, said the young sailor never should have been sent to war.
A Navy psychiatric report described Anderson as a young man who 'has always been a quiet and anti-social person. He has no close friends. The only person in his life with real meaning was his father, who suddenly committed suicide ... Since that time the boy has been essentially depressed.'
The psychiatrist recommended Anderson be discharged. Instead, the Navy put him aboard the carrier headed to Vietnam.
'I've never before told this story,' Anderson said in his interview.