'Other than that, I was a good Marine.' 31 years — and a gender change — later, Poland woman arrested for desertion.

POLAND — Thirty-one years after Pvt. Donald Tremblay ignored his officers' orders, drove away from a Marine Corps base in Southern California and returned home to Maine, Elizabeth Tremblay is facing the past.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Elizabeth Tremblay makes focaccia pizza at her Poland home. "When you don't like what your government is doing, you hang your flag upside down in silent protest," she said. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Elizabeth Tremblay of Poland enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980 when she was Donald Tremblay. She left the Marines in 1981. Last September, she was arrested on a charge of desertion.

Elizabeth, 57, formerly known as Donald, was arrested and briefly jailed four months ago on a rare, decades-old charge of desertion. She is now waiting at home in Poland for the Marine Corps to decide whether it will pursue punishment against her.

"I knew they would come looking for me at some point," Tremblay said. "I didn't expect it would take 31 years."

In all this time, there were never any police snooping around, phone calls or even letters, she said.

There was no warning when an Androscoggin County Sheriff's deputy appeared at the door of her mobile home on Sept. 10, 2012. A fugitive-from-justice warrant for Tremblay had just popped up on sheriff's department computers.

The deputy put her in handcuffs and took her to the Androscoggin County Jail, where she was isolated in a holding cell and placed on suicide watch.

"Being in that room, I just started losing it," she said. "I suddenly got claustrophobic. The thought of everything going on 31 years later and of going to Leavenworth prison. I'd lose my cats. My truck. Everything."

Marines mum

It's uncertain why it took the Marines so long to catch up with Tremblay.

Numerous phone calls this week from the Sun Journal to Marine leadership in Quantico, Va., went unanswered. There are no answers, yet, as to why the Marines never tracked down Tremblay when she first left or what suddenly changed after all these years.

Tremblay said she wasn't hiding. She even told her officers where she was going when she left.

"Something happened to the file," she said. "They don't know. It was so far back, none of the personnel are in the military any longer."

But that's only a guess.

"I've been stopped by law enforcement several times, you know, speeding tickets and things like that," she said. She assumed her record was checked. "Nothing happened."

She legally changed her name about 15 years ago, when she began a hormone regimen meant to initiate a sex change.

Then, too, her background would have been checked. She hid nothing. Her driver's license and Social Security card both read "Elizabeth Tremblay." Even her Social Security number stayed the same.

It all makes the sudden arrest more startling.

"It's a very unusual case," said Tim Steigelman, a Navy-educated attorney who teaches at the University of Maine School of Law.

Few cases of desertion have ever dragged on so long, he said. A few Cold War-era fugitives held off capture for decades, but they were the exception.

In Tremblay's case, the Marines may simply be looking for a quiet end, Steigelman said.

Since the arrest, the Marines have made an offer of a general discharge under honorable conditions, Tremblay said. However, it's not certain. She has no lawyer of her own and worries that the offer might disappear before the military discharge form, known as a DD-214, arrives.

"They're going to give me a dishonorable discharge," she said. "I have a feeling that's going to happen."

From Lewiston to San Diego

The Marine Corps was supposed to be a lifesaver for Tremblay.

Donald Tremblay grew up in Lewiston, moved to Auburn as a teenager and attended Edward Little High School until he dropped out. In the mid-1970s, Tremblay moved away to escape a rough crowd.

"I figured by getting out of Maine, I'd be getting out of trouble," she said.

Donald moved around, from Florida to California and Arizona. There were construction jobs and day work, but little else.

"I said, 'I've got to do something," Tremblay said. "I'm going to starve to death."

He picked the Marines because it offered the best challenge. After he took the military's skills test, he was steered toward a job in teletype communications. He signed a written contract and went to boot camp in San Diego.

He turned 25 while there.

"I loved boot camp," Tremblay said. "Boot camp was fun. When I went in there, I was in good shape. When I got out, I was in great shape. I felt great about myself. It was almost like going through rehab."

Then, things went bad.

He was sent to the Marine base at Twelve Palms, Calif,. and waited for his security clearance to begin his communications training. It took months.

"It still bothers me," she said, crying as her voice fell to a whisper. "I wanted my clearance. I wanted to get on with my life."

Finally, just before Christmas, Tremblay learned the orders had changed. The Marines wanted to send him to North Carolina to learn to drive Jeeps and trucks.

"I told them I had a guaranteed contract," she said. "They said that they didn't care, and if I wanted to be discharged, I needed to go to North Carolina.

"So, I told them I was going to Maine, and I was staying in Maine," she said. "If they wanted to find me, call my parents. They didn't say anything. I just did an about face and I left."

He drove away.

"I don't have any regrets because I don't know how else I could have handled it," she said.


Tremblay returned to Lewiston and quickly began using cocaine.

"At that point, I was so depressed and so discouraged," she said. She spent five years on the drug. Around the same time, she began having male partners.

Even as a Marine, Donald had begun to see people differently than most. She remembered walking along a Los Angeles sidewalk and whistling at a pair of girls, only to discover a moment later they were men in women's clothes.

"I started realizing, 'I'm living a life I should not ever have lived," she said. "I'm on the wrong path."

Donald felt like a woman trapped in a man's body.

"I started thinking about my life and why I really didn't want to lift weights and stuff like that," she said.

Slowly, he became Elizabeth.

By the mid-1990s, she was working as a weaver at Bates of Maine in Lewiston when she discovered that her medical insurance would cover hormone therapy. All she had to do was change her name, because the insurance would not supply female hormones to a man.

Fifteen years later, she has shoulder-length hair, a woman's bust and a whispery voice. She has not had surgery to remove and replace her male genitalia.

Maybe one day, she said. Money is tight.

In 2001, she sustained damage to three vertebrae in a car crash, she said. She is now on disability.

She still imagines what her life might have been like if the Marines had given her that communications job. She imagines being well-off, building a retirement fund and buying stereos, cars and motorcycles.

'A good Marine'

For now, though, she just wants to keep her freedom.

Her stay at the Androscoggin County Jail lasted only two and a half days. She worries that it may only be a glimpse of what's to come.

There is no statute of limitation on desertion, and a court-martial followed by prison is still a possibility. The charge is so serious that, when committed during a time of war, the death penalty remains an option.

Tremblay worries that people might dismiss her, without understanding her or her actions.

"People see the gender part, rather than digging deep and seeing who I truly am," she said. "The only thing they have on me is desertion. Other than that, I was a good Marine. I didn't get in trouble or anything."


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David Marsters's picture


I believe she is entiltled to back pay and a military pension over 30 yrs plus medical benefits. She signed a contract and the Marines reniged on it.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Decades after going AWOL, Poland woman arrested

all , 13.01.13 19:40 hst ?
Let sleeping dogs lie
/s Steve

Catherine Pressey's picture

It could also be argued that:

He/she was not UA because of his/her chain of command's inaction, and could be taken as permission to leave, they allowed him/her to leave the base and never sought his/her return. Knowing where he/she was and what he/she was waiting for. So this is a clear example of bate and switch, I know of someone that was promised a certain school, due to a command decision as a result of a budget cut, this person was then dropped from the A school and sent to the fleet, unrated. Crushing this perons hopes and promisses that the Navy made him. With he having a signed contract also. They get away with changing the plans, subject to the needs of the Navy. So when they get a young person to sign on, with these contracts, they mostly just want the numbers, and have little commitment to sending many of these people to the training promised. And they broke the trust of our young men and women. They spoke with forked tongues like the indians found out. Our young people realize that our recruiters, our military and our Government can not be trusted. And when persons complaint letters are sent to Senators and Congressmen they do nothing which implies an implicit acceptance of this bate and switch practice. And they wonder why those same people do not trust them in the future.

 's picture

Not a fan of recruiters...

I won't lie; I'm not now, nor was I a fan of the recruiters. I was fortunate enough to have the benefit of friends and family that had served so I knew what to look out for and was able to dodge the good 'ole "Seamen Apprenticeship" program and I didn't end up scraping paint. That being said, I don't see the point in arguing how Ms. Tremblay could defend herself or how it could be viewed. What should have happened in the first place; the Marines should have done the right thing and started discharge paperwork and allowed her to leave on an administrative discharge, which basically would have been like never having served.
I served as a Yeoman in the Navy and I had to handle lots of legal paperwork and honestly, I learned you have to cover yourself. Ms. Tremblay may have been a, "dumb kid" at the time but regardless; she should have followed proper procedure and things would have most likely worked out. You simply don't say, “I quit” and go home. As a uniformed military member when we sign our contracts we agree to follow and adhere to a certain set of rules of conduct and the UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice.) What Ms. Tremblay did is simply not acceptable and whether they push for a desertion charge or an UA charge (I was glad to see someone else know the difference, thanks for that by the way) she needs to face the consequences and accept them, whatever they are. My personal opinion; I hope that they throw the book at her and give her the maximum punishment that is allowed. On the other hand, having waited this long to catch up with her, I don’t think that easing up a bit for "time served" is too much to ask for. Both side screwed up so a little give and take wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Regardless, it’s up to the Judge Advocate General to decide.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Administrative Discharge: Hum! baaaa

Bruce, just for your info. the person I am speaking about was not a dumb kid, nore was he offered an Administrative Discharge, even after writing the Senators and Congressmen, they, none of them offered him a discharge of any kind. He was told he signed up for four years and he would have to go to the fleet unrated, and since your are knowledgeable about the service, ya know where he ended up. Not one offer in any way came his direction, to let him out of this four year sentence. They also refused to give him a reclass to another school like the recruiter told him and reasured him they would do if that school was not available. Period. Now you would think that a Senator and Congressmen would have found that loop hole for him. They only wanted to fill their billots and spoke in forked tongues. And half the people on the ship were treated the same way. Period. That is allllllllll!!!

 's picture

Interesting Logic

My grandfather, my father, and I have all served and bottom line; this is insane! She should be given the same sentence that any other deserter would receive. OMG, it's been 31 years and the constant fear of being caught and in limbo are punishment enough? What Judge handed down that sentence? So, let me get this straight; if I kill someone and manage to not get caught for say, 30 years it's okay? The fear of being caught is punishment enough? If that's the kind of logic we're going to start using we may want to start pushing for some serious gun control laws. Like Catherine Pressey mentioned, it's up to the court martial to decide.

Catherine Pressey's picture


Based on this article below he/she is UA and not a deserter! I find this story interesting, it would appear that there may be some back pay involved, as he/she told them where they could find him/her. And would come back when she was sent to the school she was promissed, this implies an intent to stay in the military and she was not evading them, she told them where she he was while awaiting the orders to start the approprate school, as per the contract. Their lack of action, could be accepted as permission to stay where he/she was. I'd say it could be argued that he/she is owed 31 years of back pay, as do to their inaction he/she was allowed to stay in the military and was not given a discharge.


AWOL and Desertion
By Rod Powers, About.com Guide

Many people confuse the terms, AWOL and Desertion. Some people believe that AWOL is when someone is absent for less than 30 days, and someone absent from the military for 30 days or more is a deserter. That's not quite true.

Unauthorized absence from the military fall under three articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ): Article 85, Desertion, Article 86, AWOL, and Article 87, Missing Movement. Of the three, Desertion is the most serious offense.

Missing Movement

A military member has violated Article 87 if he/she is ordered to be on a ship or an aircraft, or deploy with a unit on a certain date and time, and then fails to show up. It doesn't matter if the member failed to show up through intention or because of neglect, but it is required that the member knew about the movement. A viable defense would be that the member missed the movement through physical inability (as long as that physical inability wasn't a result of misconduct or neglect). The possible punishment is more severe if the member missed the movement on purpose. It's not uncommon for Missing Movement to be charged in conjunction with AWOL or Desertion, depending on the circumstances.


AWOL, or "Absent without Leave," is usually called "Unauthorized Absence" (or UA) by the Navy and Marine Corps, and AWOL by the Army and Air Force. The use of "UA" by the Navy/Marine Corps and "AWOL" by the Army/Air Force is historical. Prior to enactment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951 the services were governed by separate laws. However, its official title under the current UCMJ is "AWOL" (a rose by any other name is still a rose). It simply means not being where you are supposed to be at the time you are supposed to be there. Being late for work is a violation of Article 86. Missing a medical appointment is a violation. So is disappearing for several days (or months, or years). The maximum possible punishments, which I'll discuss later in this article, depends on the exact circumstances of the absence.


Did you know that desertion can result in the death penalty? It's true. The maximum punishment for desertion during "time of war" is death. However, since the Civil War, only one American servicemember has ever been executed for desertion -- Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.

The offense of desertion, under Article 85 carries a much greater punishment than the offense of AWOL, under Article 86. Many people believe that if one is absent without authority for 30 days or more, the offense changes from AWOL to desertion, but that's not quite true.

The primary difference between the two offenses is "intent to remain away permanently," or if the purpose of the absence is to shirk "important duty," (such as a combat deployment).

If one intends to return to "military control" someday, one is guilty of AWOL, not desertion, even if they were away for 50 years. Conversely, if a person was absent for just one minute, and then captured, he could be convicted of desertion, if the prosecution could prove that the member intended to remain away from the military permanently.

If the intent of the absence was to "shirk important duty," such as a combat deployment, then the "intent to remain away permanently" to support a charge of desertion is not necessary. However, Such services as drill, target practice, maneuvers, and practice marches are not ordinarily "important duty." "Important duty" may include such duty as hazardous duty, duty in a combat zone, certain ship deployments, etc. Whether a duty is hazardous or a service is important depends upon the circumstances of the particular case, and is a question of fact for the court-martial to decide.

Richard Begin's picture

Desertion issue

Dana and Mark
I do stand corrected in fact I neglected to notice the Flag in the Picture.
Tony you also made some good points as Well.

That said.
Miss Trembly has by her Actions placed herself in an uncomfortable Position.
Interestingly enough, as i was watching the Patriots play outstanding Football this Evening.,

Many present at our Friends house were diasappointed that the Sun Journal had to place this Story on the Front lines.Put it this Way this was not the Sun Journals Finest Hour and frankly speaking Dan Hartill has never impressed me a a very Good Writer.

Long Gone are the Days of Jonathan Van Fleet, now Scott Taylor and Scott Thistle do well. but

This story leaves much to be Desired. But as we have come to expect in this Dog Eat Dog World of Jouranlism The interests of the Subject of the Story matter little. it's all about Ratings.

Miss trembly by her particapation in the Story pays a big Price, one that She may not Afford.


Ms Tremblay

Most definitly needs assistance.



How many of the flag wrapped here have a DD-214 in their file - or is the chest pounding just more bar stool talk.

I've sat on courts-martial and assure you that what seems cut and dried isn't. On the face of it, this does not seem like the usual desertion, but the short summary in a newspaper cannot give the reader all the evidence. There is also the small matter that the military are subject to the UCMJ which has some important differences from civilian criminal law.

I'm sorry this case has become tabloid fodder.

FWIW - flying the flag upside down is a plea for assistance.

 's picture

Half Right...

You are partially correct, the flag flown upside down is in fact a sign of distress. It is also a sign of protest and willful disrespect as well.

Jason Theriault's picture

I wouldn't say I was chest pounding

First off, I don't have a dd-214. However, I also didn't swear to protect and defend the constitution. And last time I checked, it wasn't:

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... Unless they make me drive a jeep. So help me God.

That said, I agree, I don't have all the evidence. But by Trembley's own admission, he/she is guilty. And he/she gave this interview, so this isn't about a reporter hounding someone. I'm not looking for this person to be destroyed, and I think it is in everyone's best interests that this goes away. But don't ask me to feel sorry.


I may be wrong

but where Ms Trembley has not been dischaged she is still in the military,no? If so,isn'tt she entitled to a military lawyer? Has she been informed of this possibility?

Dana Burgess's picture

Richard Begin

If you look at the picture it is flying the flag upside down. If you enlist in the military and desert you should pay the same price as any deserter, no special privileges no matter how long it has been. The person joined don't cry about it now and look for sympathy pay your dues.

Richard Begin's picture

A complicated story that should be resolved quickly

Mrak Brennick. Unless I missed something where does the Article mention that Ms Trembly has or is Flying the U S Flag Upside Down? I do belive that such an occurance indicates a state of Trouble or Danger Et Cetera.

I understand that your dad may have fought for this Nation during World War 2Good for him that is a legacy to be proud of.

However that said His efforts were by in large part of the Reason many Served and Perished in Defense of the Freedoms that we all have come to appreaciate .

But you also wrote that Ms Trembly is the Poster Child for what is wrong in America.I really think Mark that statement is a bit of a Stretch.

In life as we have come to Understand there can be Extenuating Circumstances this Circumstance is just one example of how Life can Turn on a Dime.

Perhaps Ms trembly may agree to an agreement to some Public Service.In Life when we make agreements that sometimes must be followed Life does have Consequences

As far as the Discharge is concerned Rules are Rules and any Society that Endures and contineaus to Function must follow those Rules.

If in the End.

Ms Trembly does recieve a less than Honorable Discharge from the Marines So be it in their Military Mind Justice will be Served

I am not in a Position to Sit in Judgement of what Ms Trembly did or did not do.

However it would be a good thing to Temper Every' Ones words on this Matter.
That said Rules are Rules and to Quote Bob Dylan Sooner or Later your Gonna have to Serve Somone.

Richard Begin

 's picture

in picture that speaks a thousand words

where she is making focaccia pizza, kind of hard to miss

Mark Brennick's picture

Let me get this right,he/she

Let me get this right,he/she is collecting disability went awol from the military and is transgender and he/she keeps the flag upside down.My father was in the Philipines for three years in World War 2 for that flag.She/he is the poster child for whats wrong with this country.

Richard Begin's picture

Are you a Boy or are you a Girl ?

Well Mr trembly did desert but after all this time is it really worth it to prosecute Him?
The Marines should Chalk this up to Expierence and let it Go.

as For Mr or Ms Trembly having this come out is Punishment enough.

The fact is Ms Trembly was assigned to driving Jeeps because she or then He may have not Met the Bar of Expectations for a Security Clearence.

I am somewhat surprised that this Story was so long and I don't see the Value in writing about someone's Personal Troubles. Thirty years is a Long enough Sentence.

After looking closely at Her Picture in the SJ I do know who she is and actually recall her when she was appearing as a Male.

When ever I encountered her she was pleasent ,Gergarious and Kind. This is a Situation that should be resolved quickly and Let Ms Trembly go back to her Life.



I could'nt agree with you more. Lot's of folks doing some judging...that's sad.

Jason Theriault's picture


Btw - The subject of this story(Mr or Mrs Trembley) might have committed fraud.

"All she had to do was change her name, because the insurance would not supply female hormones to a man."

Changing your name does equate to a gender change. They cover hormone replacement for women because it is a medical condition, whereas in Mr/Mrs Trembley's case, it is not.

When consulting a lawyer about desertion, might want to ask about that.

Jason Theriault's picture

'A Good Marine'

"The only thing they have on me is desertion. Other than that, I was a good Marine. I didn't get in trouble or anything."

No, you were not. A good Marine doesn't desert the Corps.

"They're going to give me a dishonorable discharge," she said. "I have a feeling that's going to happen."

You should count yourself lucky if that's all that happens.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

To remain angry for over

To remain angry for over thirty years indicates this person is, well, complicated to say the least.

If the Marines offer any type of discharge deal without prosecution, count yourself lucky and accept the deal; the hell with the need to be understood. Move on with your life in freedom instead of incarceration.

Gerald Weinand's picture

I didn't get any sense that

I didn't get any sense that Elizabeth is angry now. Most of us are, to say the least, complicated.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

"It still bothers me," she

"It still bothers me," she said, crying as her voice fell to a whisper. "I wanted my clearance. I wanted to get on with my life."
... after 31 years.

“Tremblay worries that people might dismiss her, without understanding her or her actions.”
This issue is between her and the Marines, we don’t have to understand.

 's picture

I'm sure

I'm sure the ones that stayed and did their time, wanted nothing more than to move on, instead of dying for their country, they gave the ultimate sacrifice their life.....

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Moreover, it appears the

Moreover, it appears the Marine Corps made the right call on the security clearance.


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