Recently, our office had the pleasure of assisting a man who was seeking presidential clemency for a non-violent drug offense. We were shocked to find out later that this man was a war hero who had been sentenced prior to the amendments to U.S.S.G. §5H1.11 which allowed military service to be considered in determining whether a departure is warranted. With the client’s permission, we would like to share with you an excerpted portion of the clemency package we prepared on his behalf, along with the video we shot at our office on Veteran’s day.
Dear President Obama:
We are writing to urge you to grant this commutation petition. Fernando Nino is a national hero. See Video at https://vimeo.com/145665765. Around the late 1960s, there was a war in Vietnam. Those who were of age knew they were going to get drafted unless they got married or had a schooling permit. Mr. Nino didn’t get drafted. He did something that was remarkable – he enlisted. If Mr. Nino had gotten drafted he would have faced a two year obligation but because he enlisted he was up for a three year obligation. Mr. Nino describes his experience in the Vietnam War as follows:
“In 1970, as soon as I turned 18 years old, at the end of my high school senior year, just before my ‘draft number’ came up, I volunteered to join the U.S. Army. My preparation as a technical specialist soldier started at the Army Signal School in Fort Gordon, Georgia. I graduated as an Aviation Navigational Equipment Repairman. After my graduation, new orders came in to report to Fort Hood, Texas. Months went by at Fort Hood. Normal days as a soldier in a military base came and went, but I could not stop hearing and seeing how badly the news of the war in Vietnam was coming along. It made me very uncomfortable, and in my conscience I could not sit idle and do nothing for this country that I love so much. As a soldier, first comes the country, then me! At that moment, I did not delay it any longer. I went in front of my company commander and I told him to please put me in for new orders to volunteer and serve in Vietnam. A month later my orders came in to report to a training base outside Seattle, Washington. After three weeks of training, I was at 35,000 feet high, traveling on my way to Vietnam.
“The plane was loaded with 250 U.S. soldiers. We arrived at the U.S. Air base in Da Nang, Vietnam, at midnight. Two hours later, back in our military barracks, my first experience of this war was a barrage of incoming mortars. We all ran in our underwear and steel helmets only, with our M-16s strapped to our shoulders, to an outside huge bunker with a lot of sand bags all around us. What a welcome in this new Vietnam for me!
“My first job was at the airstrip hangar taking care of and repairing all the aviation and navigational radios that were coming in with bullet holes and shattered diodes and transistors. After a month in my job and seeing so much devastation at the airstrip, so many GIs coming in injured and in body bags, planes and helicopters full of holes, I walked into my company commander’s office and asked him if I could help be part of the First Cavalry Division helicopter doorgunner team. Forty-eight hours later, I was in training for 3 days to master the use of the M-60 machine gun. I became one of the best in operating this machine gun in the front lines. I defended many U.S. troops from attacks at the front lines, in the middle of the jungle, the flat lands, rice paddies, hill tops, and river banks. At the same time, I saw so much devastation and destruction that my job as a helicopter gunner caused seeing villages burn, people fleeing… war is horrible for both sides!
“Twice I experienced the scary thought of being shut down and captured by the enemy (Viet Cong-VC). Fortunately, both times we were rescued before the VC approached our helicopter. I guess God was watching over me, but He had something else prepared for me… like I always saw the enemy (VC) coming, I never saw these 27 years in federal prison coming. The War on Drugs was my worst enemy, in part, it is so unjust! And the other part is my fault.
“Every morning before sunrise we (the crew) picked up our flight plan for the day; once we took off we never knew if we were coming back to the base to sleep that night. Every single day was an adventure of horror and despair. Besides carrying fresh troops, mail, and supplies to the jungle front lines and to the hill tops – the observation artillery bases, our main priority was to evacuate the wounded troops and the body bags. There were hours of high tension flying back to the hospital base (located right on the famous China Beach TV series). Out of hundreds of flights that I participated in evacuating wounded GIs, I remember very well one flight in particular. We flew north of Quang-Tri. Taking heavy fire, we landed on a river bank and, from across the river, there were dozens of VC shooting at us (at the helicopter), and at two of our U.S. platoons that were pinned down and they had heavy casualties; our priority at that moment was to evacuate the injured (four), and the body bags (two)… Once in flight at 3,500 feet high, one of the soldiers injured had the front of the abdomen open, laying inside the open body bag. Literally, his guts with part of his intestine were outside of his body… The only thing that I could do during the 90 minutes flying back to the base hospital was to make sure he would not die on my watch. To keep him alive, I struggled to put back inside his body all the gut parts of his abdomen, and with both hands tying his abdomen skin and keeping his guts in and trying to stop the bleeding… Holding his body together, he was screaming in pain, my flight gloves were soaked in blood, my only medicine to him at that moment was my prayers. I prayed for 90 minutes, asking God to hear me out and to see the horrible causes of this war. I prayed and I prayed, for the life of this soldier, and I prayed for God to give me strength in my hands, in my body, so I could endure the horrible ordeal. My captain, the pilot, radioed to have emergency doctors at the helicopter pad landing. My hands were exchanged by the hands of the nurse to keep holding together the open abdomen of this soldier, young, 21 years old. I saw him disappear, rolling him in a stretcher inside the hospital doors… Exhausted, feeling my body drained of all the energy, the only thing that was disturbing my thoughts from what I just went through was the noise of the helicopter blades spinning full throttle… It was time to take off again, back to the front lines to pick up more injured soldiers. I hope no body bags this time… It is so sad to see that death is in front of you, you holding death in your hands… I sat in front of my M-60; I prepped the machine gun ready to fire and we took off again, to the North where hell was waiting for me again. This North point was the DMZ line, just North of Quang-Tri.
“This was my job 24/7. I lost count of the injured and the body bags that my arms and my shoulders carried. Two weeks later after the flight with the soldier that had his abdomen open, I was told that he survived. Hallelujah!
“The court NEVER gave me credit for my service in Vietnam, for serving this great country of ours (it is the only country I know to be part of it). Highly decorated for heroism, placing my own life in danger to rescue other young American lives… This sacrifice was never accredited when I was sentenced. I was never recognized for my valor at my sentencing. Also, I was exposed to Agent Orange. I already have had three operations for skin cancer. I’ve been treated for PTSD, effects resulting from war time and under battle…
“I pray that the President have some compassion for this old and tired veteran soldier… God bless America!” Letter from Fernando Nino to Wm. J. Sheppard, Esquire, on file with Wm. J. Sheppard, Esquire.
Mr. Nino joined the Army in September of 1970 and was discharged in September of 1973. In January 1972, he was in route to Vietnam and returned to the United States in February of 1973. When he shipped out to Vietnam, he was an avionic navigational equipment repairman and at the conclusion of his service and during most of his service in Vietnam, he was a door gunner in a helicopter.
During his service in Vietnam, he received the following awards:
DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
AIR MEDAL WITH NUMERAL 2
ARMY COMMENDATION MEDAL WITH “V” DEVICE
NATIONAL DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL
VIETNAM SERVICE MEDAL WITH 1 BRONZE SERVICE STAR
REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM CAMPAIGN MEDAL WITH DEVICE
MARKSMANSHIP BADGE WITH RIFLE BAR
DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS: The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any officer or enlisted man of the Armed Forces of the United States who shall have distinguished himself in actual combat in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
Specialist Nino was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism while participating in aerial flight evidenced by voluntary actions above and beyond the call of duty: These men distinguished themselves by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as crew-members aboard a search and rescue helicopter. They aided in extracting a downed crew-member surrounded by hostile forces south of Quang-Tri. During the afternoon two United States helicopters were shot down while attempting to rescue a downed ARVN pilot. All crew-members were safely extracted except for one. These men placed effective fire upon the enemy positions enabling their aircraft commander to safely maneuver their aircraft into and out of the area, successfully extracting the downed crew member. They were constantly exposed to enemy fire as the aircraft landed to pick up the crew member and their actions were instrumental in the successful completion of the rescue. Their heroism in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon themselves, their unit, and the United States Army.
AIR MEDAL WITH NUMERAL 2: The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in a unique capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.
Specialist Nino had an Air Medal with Numeral 2 on it. Arabic numerals are used to denote the number of “individual air medals.” Both of Specialist Nino’s Air Medals were awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.
ARMY COMMENDATION MEDAL WITH “V” DEVICE: The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States other than general officers who, while serving, distinguished himself or herself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service.
Specialist Nino was awarded two Army Commendation Medals. The first was for meritorious service in connection with military operations against a hostile force.
The second Army Commendation Medal awarded to Specialist Nino was for heroism in connection with miliary operations against hostile force: These men distinguished themselves by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as crew-members of an Advisory Team for support helicopter. When radio contact was lost with a United States Army helicopter with seven crew members and passengers aboard they flew the helicopter to Quang Ngai. Flying to several possible locations, and receiving enemy ground fire on both sides of the aircraft, high winds, and poor visibility in mountainous terrain, they proceeded into enemy territory until the location of the downed crew was determined. Their efforts contributed to the successful extraction of seven downed United States airman. Their actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon themselves, their unit, and the United States Army.
NATIONAL DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL: This was awarded for honorable active military service as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States during the Vietnam war.
VIETNAM SERVICE MEDAL WITH 1 BRONZE SERVICE STAR: This was awarded to all active members of the Armed Forces serving in Vietnam.
REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM CAMPAIGN MEDAL WITH DEVICE: The Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal is awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who served for 6 months in South Vietnam during 1961-1973.
MARKSMANSHIP BADGE WITH RIFLE BAR: Specialist Nino was awarded the Marksmanship Badge which is a United States military badge which is presented to personnel upon successful completion of a weapons qualification course.
AVIATION BADGE: Specialist Nino was awarded an Aviation Badge which is awarded to individuals who must be on flying status as a crew-member and have performed in flight-duties for not less than 48 flight hours.
Specialist Nino was discharged from service of the United States Army in September of 1973. Upon leaving the service, he held the rank of E4. See Exhibit 2 at 22. Thereafter he had three operations for skin cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange and other organochlorine exposures. He has been evaluated by an outside psychologist for PTSD, the effect resulting from war time in Vietnam and the length incarceration. Mr. Nino is a national hero who should be granted Presidential clemency.