After waiting much too long, the Army last week laid out chapter and verse in the case of Major Irving Peress. The chronology clearly showed that 1) the Army "discovered" Peress and started him on the way out long before Joe McCarthy roared into the picture. 2) the seemingly strange aspects of the case followed a familiar, tangled pattern of Army red tape.
The case's slow march through the maze of service "procedures":
Oct. 15, 1952. Peress, a New York City dentist, was commissioned as an Army Reserve captain under the doctors' draft law.
Oct. 28. Following the usual routine, Peress filled in his personal-history and loyalty forms. On these forms the inductee may invoke the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution in connection with the loyalty certificate and questions about subversive affiliations. Instead of simply signing the certificate and answering the questions, Peress wrote: "Federal constitutional privilege." As his papers wandered through channels, no one reacted to that notation.*
Jan. 3, 1953. Peress reported to Fort Sam Houston, Tex., for active duty and orientation.
Jan. 26. Pending assignment to the Far East, Peress was ordered to Fort Lewis, Wash. His papers, the telltale loyalty and personal-history answers still unnoticed, followed him across the country. At Fort Lewis, he applied for a "compassionate reassignment" to be near his wife and child, who were under psychiatric care.
Early February. Someone finally noticed Peress' loyalty notation. An investigation was ordered.
March 16. The family illness having been confirmed by two physicians and the Red Cross, Peress was ordered to Camp Kilmer, N.J. His papers again followed him across the country. The Army, which had to conduct some 4,000 investigations in two years, was slowly turning its investigative wheels.
Late June-Early July. The investigation of Peress was finally completed, and a report sent to First Army Headquarters in New York. The report contained a recommendation that he be separated from the service.
August. When the Peress file finally reached the Army Personnel Board in the Pentagon, he was sent an "interrogatory," citing the evidence against him and giving him a chance to reply. He wrote "Federal constitutional privilege" across the papers and mailed them back.
Oct. 23. Along with 7,000 other doctors and dentists, Peress was promoted under an amendment to the doctors' draft law calling for a general readjustment of grades based on a restudy of civilian medical experience. The Army's promotion hand did not seem to know or care that the Army's investigation hand was reaching for Peress' shoulder.
November-December. The personnel board decided that Peress should be separated from the Army. How should this be done? One way was to court-martial him. But for what? He had done nothing but invoke his constitutional privilege as regulations provided. (Earlier in the year, the Army had court-martialed Lieut. Sheppard Carl Thierman, a Brooklyn physician, in an almost identical case, and he was acquitted.) The second course was to grant Peress a discharge other than honorable, but Peress could have held this up as long as a year and might have prevented it. The third way out: give Peress an honorable discharge.