CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine who had been absent without leave since the Vietnam War was charged with desertion Monday.

Pvt. Randall J. Caudill, 48, was charged with ``desertion terminated by apprehension,'' which carries a lesser penalty than ``desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty or shirk important service,'' Camp Pendleton spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Janice Hagar said. Caudill could be sentenced to up to three years in a military brig.

Caudill will be tried either in a general court-martial for felony crimes, or a special court-martial for misdemeanors, Staff Sgt. Glenn Halloway said.

Caudill was arrested Sept. 9 at the U.S.-Canada border when U.S. immigration officials conducted a random sweep aboard a ferry from Canada and discovered he was on board and was listed as a deserter. He is being held at Camp Pendleton.

Caudill enlisted in the Marines in 1966 and was trained as a communications specialist.

In 1968, Caudill's Camp Pendleton unit was given orders to head for Vietnam. The 19-year-old radio operator decided to flee to Canada, where he gained legal residency through his wife, a Canadian citizen, officials said. The couple have three daughters.

Caudill worked as a farm equipment mechanic in Winnipeg until arthritis in his hands forced him into disability retirement. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Manitoba.

Amnesty was granted to Vietnam-era draft dodgers who fled to Canada, but not to deserters.