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Accused Captain Was War Hero in Vietnam With AM-Boat People-Cannibalism

August 11, 1988

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Alexander G. Balian, the U.S. Navy captain facing allegations that his ship gave inadequate aid to a Vietnamese refugees at sea, is a decorated hero of the war that created the ″boat people.″

Twenty-six years after actions that won him the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor, he describes himself as a trouble-shoote r who specializes in ″putting ships back in shape.″

Navy officials said Thursday in Washington that Balian, 48, was being relieved temporarily as commander of the amphibious landing ship USS Dubuque pending investigation of claims by some of 52 Vietnamese refugees that his ship refused to rescue them June 9 in the South China Sea.

The refugees were quoted as saying they later were forced to kill and eat some of their companions to survive. They said the boat’s engine failed two or three days off Vietnam and 58 people died during a 37-day ordeal, most of them after the encounter with the Dubuque.

The 16,500-ton warship, carrying 400 Marines and a crew of about 425, was en route to the Persian Gulf, four days out from its home port at Sasebo, Japan.

According to Navy officials, the Dubuque gave the refugees food, water and navigational charts. Its personnel did not believe them to be in serious trouble.

The Navy said Balian was being transferred to another post in the Western Pacific ″on an administrative basis″ until the inquiry was finished, not being relieved ″for cause.″

Balian was born in Southgate, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, where his family is in the grocery business. He has a degree in business administration from UCLA and was commissioned from the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in 1963.

In 1966, Balian was a 24-year-old lieutenant commanding a group of Navy ″swift″ boats patrolling rivers southeast of Saigon. He won the Silver Star for saving his crew after their boat was caught in a Viet Cong ambush southeast of Saigon.

His helmsman was killed and Balian and two other men were wounded when the guerrillas attacked from concealed shore positions with rocket grenades and small arms.

As the boat sank, the survivors put the body on a makeshift raft and floated downstream to safety, past other Viet Cong positions.

Balian did a second Vietnam tour in 1968 on a destroyer, and was assigned to the Persian Gulf in the early 1970s as communications officer for the Navy’s gulf-based Middle East Force.

Since July 13, 1987, he has commanded the Dubuque, which is designed to support amphibious landing operations but serves in the gulf as a ″mother ship″ for mine sweepers. It carries 400 Marines as a ready reaction force.

Other previous assignments included command of the Navy ammunition ships Kilauea and Kiska in 1979-82.

Balian’s wife and two daughters live in Sasebo.

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