Elizabeth Tremblay of Poland, Maine, talks about her enlistment in the Marines in 1980 when she was Donald Tremblay. Tremblay deserted the Marines in 1981 and was arrested 31 years later. The Marines now say Tremblay has been discharged. (Daryn Slover / The Lewiston Sun-Journal via AP)
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POLAND, Maine — A man who deserted the Marines Corps 31 years ago, moved home to Maine and began a new life as a woman has wondered for years when the law would finally catch up with her.
Elizabeth Tremblay, who was Pvt. Donald Tremblay during her military stint, was finally arrested in September and briefly jailed on a decades-old desertion charge, the Sun-Journal reported. She learned Monday that she has been discharged "under honorable condition."
Tremblay enlisted in the military in 1981. After boot camp, he believed he was going to get training in teletype communications but months later was ordered to learn how to drive Jeeps and trucks.
"So, I told them I was going to Maine, and I was staying in Maine," said Tremblay, who's now 57. "If they wanted to find me, call my parents. They didn't say anything. I just did an about face and I left."
Tremblay drove away from the Marine Corps base in southern California and returned home.
She said she legally changed her name about 15 years ago and began a hormone regimen to prepare for sex-change surgery.
"I started realizing, ‘I'm living a life I should not ever have lived," she told the newspaper. "I'm on the wrong path."
She doesn't know why it took so long for the Marines to find her. Even when she became a woman, her Social Security number stayed the same.
"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."
But on Sept. 10, 2012, without warning, an Androscoggin County Sheriff's deputy appeared at her door in Poland. A fugitive-from-justice warrant had shown up on the department's computer for Tremblay.
She spent 2 ½ days in jail but worried it could be just the start of a long stint behind bars.
But on Monday, Capt. Greg Wolf, a Marine spokesman, said the case had been resolved and Tremblay had been discharged.
He said such cases aren't uncommon. The Marines have 540 active desertion cases pending, and that half of those are 20 years or older, he said.
Tremblay said the good news is "going to take a while to sink in." She said she's glad to have it all behind her.
"I knew they would come looking for me at some point," Tremblay said. "I didn't expect it would take 31 years."