Full Metal Racket

Attorney John Mattes led a crusade on behalf of lost commandos. Now he wants his millions.

Complaints or not, some of Mattes's commandos have gone AWOL during the past three years. From an original number of 281, his client total rose to nearly 350 at one point. Now, however, slightly more than 100 of those (all residing in Vietnam) are represented by another attorney. Mattes is pursuing a separate lawsuit against that lawyer for plaintiff poaching.

An appeals court heard oral arguments this past Friday. All that remains is for the three-judge panel to issue its decision; such rulings usually take at least three or four months, Bondy says, but this one might be issued sooner.

Mattes finds it ironic that the government denied the very existence of these men for decades, and now is supposedly trying to protect them from their money-grubbing lawyer. He sees the government's actions as retaliation for disclosing the phenomenon. Still pending is his fight to secure veterans' benefits for the group. The U.S. Army's position: Though they were under contract to the U.S. government, the fighters were members of the South Vietnamese military, and thus are not U.S. veterans. A decision on this issue is expected by late March.

In addition Mattes continues to advocate criminal prosecution of the military officials responsible for the coverup. (He also works full time as a reporter for WAMI-TV [Channel 69].)

"It's kind of a Kafka-Orwellian nightmare of trying to come to grips with these things called the justice department and the defense department," Mattes laments. "This isn't about money. My clients want an apology, recognition. They want to die with dignity. They don't want to be forced to litigate these issues."


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