April 01, 2012

Legal Lore: Tried for Treason: The Amazing Case of Private Dale Maple

Fred L. Borch

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On April 24, 1944, at a court-martial convened deep inside the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Army Private Dale Maple was found guilty of desertion and aiding the enemy. His sentence: to be hanged by the neck until dead. But Maple did not know that he had been sentenced to death, because the court-martial jury, which had conducted its proceedings in secret, had been ordered by the Army to keep its verdict secret as well—even from the defendant. What follows is the true story of the trial of Dale Maple, the first American-born soldier in the history of the Army ever to be found guilty of a crime that fits the constitutional definition of treason.

Born in San Diego, California, in September 1920, Maple was 15 years old when he graduated from high school—first in his class. He continued his education at Harvard and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A., magna cum laude, at age 19. His strength was languages. Dale Maple spoke Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Dutch. But his first love was German, and while studying it at Harvard, Maple soon gained the reputation of being a German cultural sympathizer. And after he sang Nazi Party songs at the Harvard German Club in the fall of 1940 and loudly declared that National Socialism was “infinitely preferable to democracy,” the local newspapers proclaimed Maple the “Nazi leader of Boston.”

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