Saving two heroes from jail
A true story
By: Joe P. Attanasio
By: Joe P. Attanasio
The following true story happened when I was 19 years old. I am not sharing this story simply because I played a part in it. I think this is an important story to share as it shows the difference even one person can make in the world when they care about others. This is a story about compassion and justice. After you read it, I suggest you follow the links at the end as I only included an excerpt with my writing.
This story is true. The year was 1968. I returned to the States from my tour of duty in Vietnam and had one more year to serve in the army. I was stationed at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn New York. I was a clerk in the Survivors Assistance office there that handled notifying the next of kin and providing survivor assistance for all army related deaths in New York State and Connecticut. I worked a long shift from 4 pm one day till 7 am the next day and then had two days off before I had to be back again.
One evening I bumped into two army buddies of mine, both MPs (Military Police) that were stationed just across the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge on Staten Island. I had not seen them for months and I was off the next day so I left the base with them to hang out. Just after we passed the main gate they passed a marijuana joint to me. I remember Hey Jude was playing on the radio and we all started singing as we passed the joint around.
They pulled into the parking lot of a bar on the waterfront and we went in. On the way in they asked me if I have ever taken “downers”, I told them I never did. They offered me a Tuinal (brand name barbiturate) and told me it was a nice mellow high but if I took it I could not drink alcohol. So I took one and ordered a soft drink. We hung out there for a while and I was pretty loaded between the marijuana and the pill.
We went back to their apartment to crash for the night and they told me that they would drive me back to my barracks in the morning. I was going to sleep on their couch. I will never forget this part, they told me that I would sleep like a baby on the Tuinal and I would wake up feeling great and refreshed.
I was awakened by a loud knock on their front door. It was morning and they were still in bed sleeping so I answered the door. A man in a hard hat that looked to be a construction worker was standing there. He told me they were paving one side of the street and all the cars had to be moved to the other side. I walked into the bedroom to wake my friends to move their car and this man walked with me.
When I got into the bedroom, he flashed a badge saying he was a narcotics officer and we were all under arrest. It seems my two friends were buying and using drugs and selling a few of them to some of their friends on the base. Somehow this undercover cop had managed to buy some and had been watching them for a month or more.
At the police station I was questioned for a few hours by different detectives. They had never seen me during their investigation and realized they had nothing on me. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and they had to release me.
A few days later when I was at work I was approached by a man called Irvin Leigh Matus. He informed me that he used to work with Joe and Mark at their base but he finished his time in the army and got out a few months ago. He told me he heard what happened and was informed that I was with them when they got arrested and he wanted to talk to me about something. He explained that he heard on good authority that the army was going to “throw the book” at them and make an example of them and they would probably get 20 years each in Leavenworth (A military prison)
He also explained that they were both heavily decorated Vietnam vets who got involved with drugs over in Vietnam to help cope with the horrors they went through there and that he believed it was not fair for the army to punish them like this instead of treating them for drug abuse.
He further explained that he was a free-lance journalist and had a plan to help them. He wanted to know if I was willing to help also. I told him I would do anything I could for those two.
Mr. Matus contacted James Wechsler, the Editorial Page Editor and a Columnist for the New York post newspaper. Wechsler who knew Mr. Matus from some of his other writing was sympathetic to his cause and wrote an article that appeared in the Post the following day. He wrote about the two decorated army war heroes that had a drug problem as a result of their service in Vietnam. He addressed the army’s responsibility in the matter and questioned the severity of the sentence they were almost sure to enforce.
Wechsler, who was previously the Chief Editor of the whole New York Post newspaper, had a reputation for taking on causes. He had the guts to attack J. Edgar Hoover among others and the New York Post had a reputation as a liberal newspaper. With the article in hand, Irvin Matus and I took the train to Washington D.C.
Mr. Matus made sure I was in uniform and he had copies of the New York Post editorial. We visited five key senators that day to help serve our cause. We simply asked them to keep abreast of the situation to help insure that justice prevailed, not just heavy handed punishment. All the senators we saw were on the Armed Forces Sub Committee. Mr. Matus was an eloquent speaker and very tactful and persuasive.
The Senators did in fact let the army know that they were interested in seeing justice and not just “a hanging” of these two hero’s. The top brass must have passed along the information to be careful in this case because senators and the press were involved. My two friends were ultimately given probation and received the drug rehabilitation they needed. I never took another illegal pill again by the way!
I spent quite a bit of time with Irvin including going to his mother’s home for dinner one day. When I got out of the army, Irvin Matus asked if I would join him on some of his other projects. I turned him down as I had my heart set on heading for California. He wrote me a few times after that and then we lost contact with each other.
When I decided to share this story on Booksie I looked up my old friend on the internet. He had just died a short time before. Searching for some information on I found him to be listed on Wikipedia among other places. I suggest you take a minute to read about him. I will cut and paste a small part of his bio.
An Exceprt from Wikipedia.
Irvin Leigh Matus (July 25, 1941 - January 5, 2011) was an independent scholar, autodidact and author. He is best known as an authority on Shakespeare but also wrote about aspects of Brooklyn's history such as the Vitagraph Studios, and developed a method of modeling baseball statistics. His father was manager of the Western Union office in Time Square. He was a scholar-in-residence at Shepherd University for the academic year 1992-1993
The following is an excerpt and from an article that appeared in the Washington Post:
By Matt Schudel Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 9:03 PM
Ever since arriving in Washington in 1985, Irvin Matus seemed to survive on little more than charm, wit and the kindness of friends and strangers.
He seldom had a paying job - mostly out of stubborn pride - choosing instead to spend the past 25 years as an independent scholar of the life and works of William Shakespeare. He showed up each day at the Library of Congress or Folger Shakespeare Library to conduct his research, then slipped away in the evening to cadge food from Capitol Hill cocktail receptions, striding in as if he were a congressman.
He lived in dozens of places as an itinerant house sitter and became known as something of a "man who came to dinner."
"Invite him to stay the night," a fellow Shakespeare scholar told The Washington Post last week, "and he might still be in your home a month later."
Mr. Matus (pronounced MAH-tuss) traveled to England to explore the places Shakespeare knew, dug through archives and published two well-received books, but any similarities to other scholars ended there.
He was not affiliated with a university and had no academic credentials beyond a high school diploma. In 1988, just as he was putting the final touches on his first book, "Shakespeare: The Living Record," Mr. Matus ran out of borrowed couches.
For several months, he spent his nights sleeping at a construction site behind the Library of Congress. In the morning, he would slip into the library, wash up, shave and comb his luxuriant head of hair, then go back to his research. Whenever people asked where he was living, he said, "the Hill."
Two months after Mr. Matus died Jan. 5 of a stroke at his apartment in Silver Spring at the age of 69, people who knew him are still puzzling over how a brilliant man whose scholarship was recognized around the world came to lead such an unconventional life, often just one step from destitution.
Here is a link to the Washington Post story:
Irvin Leigh Matus also has a web site about Shakespeare that is still maintained: