by Dr. Thomas E. Davis, Colonel, USA (Ret), ©2016

(Mar. 19, 2016) — In a video at this link:, Bill Whittle relates a story about a Major who was finding less and less time to train his personnel in the important skills they would need to carry out their mission. The Major’s superior gave him an order to do something that further got in the way of the training mission. The Major stated, “Sir, I Will Not Obey That Order!” Was the Major within his rights?

The major was absolutely right, if the order was in any way IMPROPER.  The Oath he took reads as follows, I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.” (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)”

The Oath taken by enlisted personnel contains words as follows, “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

I was caught up in a similar circumstance in 1954. Allow me to amplify in order that the reader will understand the potential consequences for at least a minor disaster.

I was a First Lieutenant in the Military Police and was at the time the Acting Commanding Officer of the 209th MP Company at Kobe Base, Japan. The Commanding Officer, Vincent I. Olsen, was on leave. The Provost Marshal, who had operational control over the Military Police resources, Major Robert Sabolek [sp], issued an order that any Military Policeman involved in an accident while operating a Military Police vehicle was to be Courts-Martialed.

I was Duty Officer during one 24-hour period when a Corporal Gonzalez was involved in an accident with a Japanese-owned-and-operated, three-wheel vehicle. I was summoned via radio to the scene. Several Japanese police officers were already there. I was quite proficient in the Japanese language and the Japanese officers told me that the Japanese driver was totally at fault and had been taken into custody and that Cpl. Gonzalez had, in fact, taken appropriate evasive action.

The following morning, I was summoned to the Office of the Provost Marshal. I entered, saluted and reported to Major Sabolek. Under usual and normal procedures, Sabolek would have stated, “At Ease, Lieutenant.” He very curtly and brusquely asked, “Lieutenant Davis, have you read my order?” I asked to which order was he referring.  He replied, “You know damned well which order; the one about MPs will be Courts-Martialed if they have an accident.” I relayed that I had read it and immediately, Sabolek asked, “Well, then, where are the papers requesting the Courts-Martial?”

I replied, “Sir, that is an ‘Illegal Order’ with which I cannot and will not comply.” Sabolek turned red and looked towards his deputy, a Captain Pressman, and, nearly shouting, said, “Did you hear that, Pressman? Davis is disobeying my order.”  Captain Pressman, to my surprise and some relief, responded, “Colonel, I advised you when you had that order prepared that it was an illegal order. Lieutenant Davis is acting properly.” Sabolek was red in the face and visibly angry. He almost shouted, “Dismissed.” I did an “about-face” and departed.

Several months later Captain Olsen and his family and I with my family left Kobe and headed for the USA. During that sea voyage, Captain Olsen, while dancing with my wife, imparted to her that he had given me a good OER (Officer Efficiency Report). In those days the OER consisted of eight sections. The highest rating in seven of them was, I believe, (8) and in the remaining one it was a (9). In my commissioned service up until that time, I had never received a score less than (8). I expected another nearly perfect rating.

My next assignment was to the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey, CA, to study Russian. Sometime in June or July, I received a letter from the Department of the Army, notifying me that I had been passed over for selection to the grade of Captain. I knew this could not be since I had always received superlative OERs. In any event I was not yet due for promotion.

I did well in Russian and received orders to proceed to Garmisch, Germany and Company D, 508th MP Bn. We were authorized a delay en route before embarking for Germany. I took advantage of that delay to take a side trip to Washington and the Office of the Provost Marshal General. I wanted to learn if it was really I who had been “passed over” and why. I went directly to the personnel office and asked to see my records. The clerk informed me that I had to be accompanied by a personnel officer who would be with me shortly. A few minutes later the personnel officer walked in; he was Colonel Robert Sabolek.  He had my personnel records in hand and quite curtly said, “Follow me!”

We went into a small room, where Sabolek asked me what I was looking for. I told him about the letter I had received, if it was correct and, if so, why? He handed me my records and I went immediately to the OERs. All were as I have noted, near perfection, including the last from the Language School.

The one prepared by Captain Olsen and signed off by LTC Sabolek was disastrous, from low to mediocre scores. As was then required by regulations, if the report was in any way derogatory, the Rating Officer, Cpt. Olsen, was “required” to counsel the rated officer about any shortcomings or deficiencies, and the “rated” officer was to acknowledge and sign that he had been counseled.

I turned toward Col. Sabolek, who had a “smirk” on his face and stated to the effect that since he, Sabolek was Olsen’s Rating Officer, it is apparent that Sabolek had ordered Olsen to give Davis a “Very Poor” rating. Sabolek replied, “Lieutenant, you are bordering on insubordination.” I replied, “Colonel, you are pi**** off because I refused to prefer Courts-Martial charges against an innocent man as was my right and my obligation, and you were dead wrong; if this be insubordination, then dammit, YOU prefer charges against me.”

I got no satisfaction to my problem, but I served for many more years and retired, having legitimately refused an order as a conscientious officer and gentleman should.

LESSON:  Rightful orders MUST be obeyed; illegal or improper orders MUST be disobeyed, regardless of consequences.


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  1. Dear Dr. Thomas E. Davis, Colonel, USA (Ret),

    Good story.

    Now what about a life and death story?

    Once upon a time, in a land far away, a twin engine prop plane carrying “medical supplies – and a handful of “volunteers” to act as mules — touched-down on a grass “airstrip” somewhere in Southeast Asia.

    Upon landing the plane was riddled with small arms fire. The pilot was killed – along with the radio — and the plane came to an inglorious stop, never to fly again.

    To make a long story short, the so-called “medical supplies” was weapons – lucky for us — which we were to deliver to “a tribe”. Trouble was, our “Welcome Wagon” was trying to kill us. We “landed” late afternoon and, after egressing – crawling — from the plane to a rock pile – while taking fire — the officer in charge of the operation said that we would wait there, in our rock pile, and see what happens in the morning.

    Let’s see: we had very little water, were surrounded and, to top it off, no radio to call-up the cavalry.

    I remember saying something along the lines of “If we wait until morning we’ll be killed or taken prisoner. What say we attack them, say, around 3am? I’d rather die fighting than to just sit around and wait for it”, or something along those words. Did I mention that there might’ve been a degree of sarcasm? A hint of incredulous? Possibly even some disrespect?

    “Son, I gave you a direct order.”

    “Look, your order will get us (me) killed.”

    You know “THE END” because I’m telling the story 51 years later. When we got back to base a Court Martial was a possibility but, in the end, the whole episode was swept-under-the-rug as we were sworn to “Keep our mouths shut.”

    And I’ve kept my mouth shut — until about a year ago — when I wrote an editorial about following, if not an illegal order, a order that will get our troops killed, for sure, for nothing.

    And the same thing is happening in the Middle East: taking the same road at about the same time when going outside the fence.

    “Uh, Sir? Could we, uh, maybe not take the same road we took yesterday and the day before?”

    Reminds me of our B52’s taking the same vector in and the same out of North Vietnam, so all the VC had to do was line-up his missile launchers along our known path of flight: it’s no wonder so many planes were shot down; why so many Airmen were killed or taken prisoner.

    In my book, a STUPID ORDER that is sure to get troops killed is the same thing as an ILLEGAL ORDER. Some may disagree, but because I did what I did a half century ago a bunch of young Americans got to live their lives, including me.

    The essence of war: you survive by killing the enemy. Only Hollywood could come-up with the “Stop or I’ll shoot” fantasy.

    Removing protesters chained to their cars blocking the road, violating other American’s Constitutional right to hear someone exercise their free speech, does not take hours, okay?

    We’re talking about following illegal orders here. The “Time of figuring it out” has passed.