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James Roberson

In October 1942, 18-year-old James Roberson joined the U.S. Navy as a gunner. The Navy awarded Roberson the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II, among other medals.

Roberson received an honorable discharge from the Navy on December 1, 1947. That same day, he began the process to re-enlist. On December 4, an officer involved in Roberson’s re-enlistment told Roberson that he lacked compliance with requirements necessary to receive certain benefits as part of his re-enlistment. At the time of this conversation, Roberson had been drinking, and he got into an altercation with the officer. The officer ordered Roberson to be confined to his quarters. Instead, Roberson gathered up his belongings, including his honorable discharge papers dated December 1, and returned home to his family in Iowa without notifying anyone of his departure.

Navy officials located Roberson in Iowa and charged him with drunkenness, disobeying an officer, breaking arrest, and desertion. On March 26, 1948, he was sentenced to a prison term of four years by a Navy General Court-Martial and dishonorably discharged. Upon review, his sentence was reduced to two years in prison and his dishonorable discharge was modified to a bad conduct discharge. After serving eight months and 19 days in prison, Roberson was released in December 1948. He was placed on probation and instructed to report to restored duty in Boston, Massachusetts.

Instead of reporting as instructed, Roberson again returned home to Iowa. In September 1949, the Navy returned Roberson to confinement in a Navy stockade on a charge of desertion, based on his return to Iowa rather than reporting to duty in Boston.

Roberson’s parents hired an attorney to represent him regarding this charge. Before Roberson was tried on this desertion charge, his attorney filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On December 8, 1949, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered that Roberson be released, following habeas corpus proceedings. The court found that the court-martial lacked jurisdiction over Roberson, since he had been honorably discharged on December 1, 1947 and had never completed his re-enlistment.

On February 19, 1952, U.S. District Court Judge Philip L. Sullivan granted Roberson a Certificate of Innocence.

In April 1952, Roberson filed a claim for compensation with the U.S. Court of Claims. Roberson died by suicide on July 28, 1954. On October 5, 1954, the court ruled Roberson was entitled to compensation. Because Roberson had died prior to this ruling, his attorney asked that this compensation be paid to his family. The government argued that Roberson’s cause of action was not assignable. On November 30, 1954, the Court of Claims ruled otherwise and ordered the government to pay $5,000 to Roberson’s estate.

- Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:Mil - Federal
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Crime
Reported Crime Date:1947
Sentence:4 years
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors: