Mark A. Kellner/ANN
Joel David Klimkewicz is a United States Marine whose decision not to pick up a weapon, led to a court-martial, conviction and a seven-month jail sentence. He was released from jail at nearby Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, United States, on April 6; his prison sentence was suspended while his case is being appealed.
Ironically, Klimkewicz is hoping that one of a series of military court appeals might allow him to return to Camp Lejeune—or another installation—as a military chaplain. He said he is planning to begin religion studies at Southern Adventist University, in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, with chaplaincy as his destination.
“That was my goal from the start of this thing,” he told Adventist News Network in a telephone interview five days after his release. Klimkewicz, 24, led a troubled life as a Marine before attending ship-board Bible studies conducted by a Seventh-day Adventist chaplain. He was converted, baptized and eventually joined the Adventist Church, where he learned that non-combatancy is the church’s recommendation, and, upon personal reflection, came to the conclusion that he could not take up a weapon to kill another person.
For now, Klimkewicz’s status is somewhat in limbo. He’s free to travel and begin his college studies, but his conviction and sentence are “frozen” while there are automatic appeals, first to a U.S. Navy/Marine Corps appellate court, then one to a combined U.S. Armed Forces appeals court. If both of these appeals are unsuccessful, a final appeal to the United States Supreme Court can be made. The process could take years to complete.
Meanwhile, Klimkewicz retains his optimism and a desire to be a chaplain.
“I’m not a conscientious objector,” he said. “I’m a conscientious cooperator; I don’t object to serving my country.”
But since that service would not allow him to take life, he couldn’t carry a weapon. Instead, he asked for non-combatant assignments such as clearing landmines, where he could help his fellow Marines but not carry a weapon. His superiors refused, and when he was ordered to pick up a rifle, Klimkewicz refused.
Klimkewicz said the greatest lesson he learned was that “we have to obey God rather than man, no matter what the consequences.” He and his family received support from the Adventist congregation in Jacksonville and from others around the country and even overseas, as evidenced by a donation sent from the Solomon Islands.
“The support of the church has been amazing, more than I could ever repay,” he told ANN.
The court-martial and sentence took its toll on Klimkewicz’s family, his wife Tomomi and their 3-year-old daughter. Mrs. Klimkewicz, a Japanese citizen, was new to the Adventist Church and the United States when the then-lance corporal’s ordeal began; backing from local church members has been vital, he said.
“She gained a lot of faith from the local church members who supported her morally and financially as well as all the church members who sent donations from around the country and all over the world,” Klimkewicz said. “She’s happy that I’m home. The separation time has actually brought us closer together, and she’s learned how to trust in God.”
While in jail, he conducted Bible studies that attracted interest from fellow prisoners, one expressing a strong interest in Adventist beliefs. He said his fellow prisoners were aware of his case and its circumstances: “When I found out I was going to be released, the prisoners in there were happier than I was that I was going to leave.”