Richard Franks, who is now practicing law in Denver, is a Springfield native and a graduate of what, in the 1960s, was still Southwest Missouri State College. As he entered his senior year of law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1968, he discovered to his chagrin that the draft board was cancelling ALL student deferments for graduate school after the current school year. This was, of course, the height of the Vietnam War. While he was in no way a supporter of the Vietnam War, he discovered that the U.S. Marine Corps was in bad need of lawyers—Judge Advocates General, or “JAGS” as they’re called. So he joined the Marines. And for a year, in 1969-70, Richard Franks and a close-knit group of fellow trial lawyers were assigned to Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam. There they were either prosecutors or defense lawyers trying court-martial cases ranging from sleeping on post to black-marketeering to murder. When they weren’t busy with their jobs, they tried to have as good a time as possible without getting killed—after all, there was a war going on!
That’s the background of a new book Richard Franks has published, called “FLC Legal: The War in Vietnam that was Never Reported.” It’s based on his experiences during his year in Vietnam as a Marine attorney. I talked to Franks yesterday by phone from his headquarters in Denver.
(The book’s title, “FLC Legal,” refers to the Marine Corps Force Logistics Command—that’s the command under which the Marine lawyers are deployed, and which provides administrative services.)
Franks says he likes to joke that he “was a draft dodger—and I dodged the draft successfully by joining the Marine Corps! Let’s say it this way: none of us were really that committed to the war effort... but we thought that it was, given the alternatives, the right thing to do. And once we got over there and saw what was going on, it was too late to do anything. It was not a war that could ever be won. And thousands of Americans died as a result of the mistake. But we had a legal office that was staffed by, by the time I left, 25 lawyers.” Though Richard Franks was only in Vietnam for a year, he says with a laugh, “Yeah, that was long enough, I thought!”
The publisher, Austin Macauley Publishing, says Franks offers a “unique perspective” regarding the Vietnam War. Franks explains, “The perspective is from an attorney’s viewpoint, who was in court almost every day, administering or being part of the administration of military justice—court-martials. And those court-martials have the same effect as a civilian conviction. This story is about the law office, and what happened in the law office.”
He and the other lawyers were kept pretty busy, says Franks, though they would occasionally run out of things to do. “And we amused ourselves in a variety of really interesting and fun ways,” such as weekly steak and lobster parties. “Every Saturday night we had steak and lobster. One weekend I waterskied in Chu Lai. I used to joyride in helicopters all the time—nearly got shot down within two weeks of leaving (Vietnam), out messing around in a helicopter—not flying it myself, but riding in it.”
But he insists things never got too crazy. “We weren’t violating any rules, we were just having a good time. There was nothing improper or illegal about it. In fact, those steak and lobster parties were visited by our two commanders. Typically every Saturday night they would come over to get a steak and a lobster. They were quite happy for us to have this benefit!”
Despite not being a supporter of the war, Richard Franks is definitely proud of his Marine service. “It’s one of the proudest achievements of my life, being a Marine Corps officer. And what I learned, in spades, was discipline. We were taught to follow orders, and we didn’t question orders. That’s the military way.”
Franks and his fellow Marine lawyers intended to hold a reunion in the early 1970s, two years after their service... instead it took 45 years. That 2013 is where the idea for writing the book began to take shape. “My best friend over there, a guy named Tommy Jarrett, who practices law in North Carolina, began to encourage me to write a book about the year in Vietnam. And I resisted and resisted and resisted, and finally decided that I could probably do it. And with (Jarrett’s) help and another chap’s help, we embarked on this project. I wrote, and they supplied me with technical information from their files and recollections. And they helped in the editing. And low and behold, it happened—and it happened rather quickly. I wrote the book in four months. It’s chockful of information about something that happened during that conflict that most people never would have believed could have happened—let alone DID happen. It also highlights the ridiculous nature of that war. It was not a war about occupying the country, organizing the government. It was just a war about killing. And it was an abundant mistake, and those of us where were there at the time could see that. And this is another perspective of what happened in that war... and why I hope we’ll never do anything like that again.”
For information on Richard Franks’s book “FLC Legal,” visit www.austinmacauley.com/us.