Update: Westword has learned that a motion to dismiss the charges against Robert Lehnert was signed by a judge in March 2016, after which the case was sealed. Continue for our previous coverage.
Original post: News that a 94-year-old man had been accused of sexual assault against a 73-year-old victim was shocking enough.
Even more startling, though, is the identity of the arrestee: retired Marine Colonel Robert C. Lehnert, a World War II hero who was a key figure in a documentary narrated by Greatest Generation chronicler Tom Brokaw.
A 2011 post on the U.S. Marine Corps' official website offers details about the film and Lehnert's part in it.
Its headline reads, "Documenting history in Denver: Aviator educates new generation."
Here's an excerpt:
"I had two options,” the 89-year-old pilot states. “I could ditch my plane or bail out of the cockpit into the dark waters below.” As the man speaks, his blue eyes light up as though he is back at the control of his F4U Corsair over the Pacific Ocean in 1944. “I decided to jump out of my cockpit,” he says with a smile.
The date was Jan. 25, 1944, and the pilots of Marine Fighting Squadron 422 were on a flight from newly acquired Tarawa Atoll to the island of Funafiti, roughly 800 miles away. Along the way, the squadron encountered two tropical storms and lost every aircraft but one. They would be known as the “Lost Squadron.”
On Dec. 23, 2010, a film crew flew from Connecticut to Denver to document the personal account of that day from retired Marine Col. Robert C. Lehnert, a pilot who took part in that disastrous mission. The crew also filmed two college students who were accepted to the Marine flight program out of Officer Selection Office Denver, to capture their interaction with the former fighter pilot.
“We wanted to film a documentary that revolves around the stories of the 23 Marine pilots from VMF-422,” said Nicholas Richter, the production supervisor for Triple Threat Television. “Two other documentaries have been made, but with little success, even with the presence of the majority of the pilots who survived the ordeal.”
The documentary was released in 2012.
Its title: The Flintlock Disaster.
The doc ran across the country on public television stations such as California's KCET.
Here's a trailer for the film, featuring Brokaw's narration.
The account of events in Lehnert's arrest affidavit couldn't be more different from his survival story.
The victim had known Lehnert for quote some time, she told investigators, but after the death of her husband, he got physical with her, grabbing her and kissing her near the mailbox kiosk at the complex where she lived.
She didn't report that incident — but on January 6, it happened again: Lehnert allegedly hugged and kissed the victim against her will near the mailboxes.
Then, a short time later, Lehnert arrived at her door with his dog at his side.
After Lehnert tied up his dog on the porch of her residence, she allowed him inside — a decision she would soon regret. She said that Lehnert "felt her up" and "raped her" while they sat on her couch.
The victim was not physically injured due to the sex assault, but the document notes that she found the act "hurtful."
When Lehnert was interviewed, he characterized himself as a "flirt" — although he was sorry if he had "'over-stayed' my leave."
Prosecutors with the Denver District Attorney's Office believe he did more than that. He's been charged with two felony counts of sexual assault. He's currently free on a $50,000 bond; his next court appearance is scheduled for February 5.
Look below to see Lehnert's booking photo.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.