April 01, 2013

Legal Lore: Anatomy of an Attempted Army Murder

Fred L. Borch

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On November 30, 1972, Staff Sergeant Alan G. Cornett was living in a small outpost near Duc My, Vietnam. A medic assigned to an American Special Forces team, Cornett liked being where the action was, and he had almost completed an unprecedented six and a half years in Vietnam. But on that November day, Alan Cornett was not a happy trooper. After drinking a half case of Budweiser beer and a pint of rum, Cornett walked to the bunker where his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Donald F. Bongers, was on duty. Cornett then took an M-26 fragmentation grenade off his web belt, pulled the pin, and threw the grenade into the bunker.

As he later explained to an Army criminal investigator, he “fragged” Bongers because “he was an asshole who deserved to die.” For attempting to murder Bongers with a fragmentation grenade (hence the word “fragging”), Cornett was court-martialed in January 1973. What follows is the story of this trial and its surprising ending.

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