Yank in the SS
Ron Soodalter’s excellent piece [“A Yank in the SS,” January 2017] on 1st Lt. Martin Monti’s treason prompted me to look at the record of trial in his court-martial and his subsequent trial in U.S. District Court.
The Army had no idea Monti had joined the Waffen-SS. On the contrary, while some agents who interviewed Monti in 1945 were suspicious of his story about escaping with the help of Italian partisans, his tale was not improbable. He was court-martialed only for desertion and larceny of the P-5E Lightning.
As for President Harry S. Truman’s commutation of Monti’s 15-year sentence and his restoration to active duty as an enlisted soldier, this was typical for the immediate post–World War II era. Hundreds of soldiers with lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenses were languishing in prisons, and the Army wanted to reduce its prison population as part of its own demobilization and reorganizing. So Monti’s restoration to active duty was not at all uncommon.
The interesting story is his prosecution in U.S. District Court in New York. According to the court records in Monti’s federal prosecution, Monti’s decision to plead guilty was not a surprise. After Monti’s two defense lawyers (both of whom were highly respected) reviewed all the government’s evidence, they advised their client there was overwhelming proof of treason, and he would be found guilty if he proceeded to a full-blown trial. Additionally, they told Monti that his status as an Army officer was such an aggravating factor, he would probably receive a death sentence, or at least a life sentence. But Monti’s lawyers had learned from off-the-record conversations with the prosecutor and the trial judge that if their client pleaded guilty to treason and threw himself on the mercy of the court, he would probably get 30 years in jail. When Monti in fact got 25 years in jail, it was clear his defense lawyers had given him good advice.
Fred L. Borch III
Regimental Historian & Archivist
U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s School
I read with interest “Tightrope Walker,” by John Koster, in the July 2016 issue, since my father served on the destroyer escort USS Herbert C. Jones in the spring of 1945. In the article Koster states on P. 25 that USS PE-56 was the last warship sunk by direct enemy action during the Battle of the Atlantic. In fact, the destroyer escort USS Frederick C. Davis was torpedoed and sunk on April 24, 1945, the day after PE-56 was sunk. Davis and Jones were part of a hunter/killer group searching for U-boats that fateful day. The rest of the group depth charged U-546 and brought it to the surface, rescuing some of the crew. My father told me that crewmen on his ship had to be restrained from attacking the U-boat’s survivors, as they had friends on Davis.
Ladislas Fargo mentions the incident in his 1986 work The Tenth Fleet, about the Navy’s intelligence unit during World War II.
Those interested in the “Little Ships,” the destroyer escorts, may want to visit USS Slater [ussslater.org], a restored destroyer escort moored on the Hudson River at Albany, N.Y.
New Freedom, Pa.
In the May 2017 news item on OSS veterans [“OSS Veterans Receive Congressional Gold Medal”]: You left out well-known author Walter Lord. Lord wrote the first comprehensive books on the Pearl Harbor attack and Titanic sinking plus many other books.
Editor responds: Truth be told, we simply ran out of room to mention all the notables who served with the OSS during the war. Baltimore native Walter Lord Jr. started as an OSS code clerk in 1942 and by war’s end rose to become the agency’s secretariat. He is perhaps best known for his 1955 nonfiction best seller A Night to Remember, which was adapted into the eponymous 1958 film. Lord also served as a consultant on James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic. The secret agent turned author died in 2002.
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