Ted Sampley, Rabble Rouser
Ted Sampley may not have been a household name, but he certainly made life uncomfortable for a lot of people who were. Check out the Post's obituary of Sampley, who was an activist for the POW/MIA cause and much more. the first obit outside his home state of North Carolina
Sampley was something of a gadfly, but that benign term doesn't begin describe him. It's like calling Attila the Hun a little rough around the edges. Sampley obviously had a great deal of charm and was described in his hometown paper (Kinston, N.C.) as having "one of the biggest hearts of anyone I have ever met" and, inevitably, "a heart of gold." Sampley may not have been an admirable person, in many ways, but he was certainly interesting to write about.
Sampley's political activism grew out of his commitment to the MIA cause. Despite overwhelming evidence that few if any U.S. servicemen were still alive in Vietnam by the mid-1980s, Sampley was convinced that many men had been left behind. He occasionally went back to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and was sometimes arrested for illegally crossing borders. As far as I can tell, he never found a single soldier or pilot alive, but he did successfully challenge the Pentagon on the identity of the "unknown soldier" in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Using service records, maps and other documents, Sampley pieced together evidence that the unidentified serviceman was an Air Force pilot named Michael Blassie, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1972. In 1998, the Pentagon confirmed Sampley's research through DNA analysis.
In the 1980s, Sampley was one of the founders of Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle caravan that comes to D.C. once a year as a tribute to and reunion of sorts for Vietnam vets and the POW/MIA cause. Author Susan Katz Keating, who has written a book about the POW question, "Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW-MIA Myth in America" (1994), has some personal, thoughtful and even amusing comments on Sampley on her blog.
Sampley was proud of his 10-year career in the Army and of being a member of the Green Berets. He had two tours of combat duty as a foot soldier in Vietnam -- though I couldn't find any evidence that he was actually in Vietnam while he was with the elite Green Berets. He remained combative and not a little angry for the rest of of his life. He had an abiding love of publicity and, judging from his cantankerous, contrarian nature, he didn't care how he got it.
I suspect he wouldn't mind if we used a few other adjectives to describe him: Ted Sampley was arrogant, combative, mean-spirited, rude, nasty, underhanded, outrageous and slanderous. He was a rabble-rouser of the right-wing fringe, and he reveled in the notoriety he received by rattling the gilded cages of the politically prominent.
As detailed in the obituary, Sampley chained himself to the White House fence and once delivered bamboo cages to the front lawn of White House chief of staff Donald Regan. He also blocked National Security Council director Frank Carlucci's driveway with 1,800 boxes -- "care packages" for MIAs and POWs Sampley believed were still alive. Even more notoriously, Sampley launched malicious, misleading and downright mendacious campaigns against political figures he didn't care for, most notably two decorated Vietnam veterans, John Kerry and John McCain.
He used all the usual trite arguments against Kerry (whom he called "Hanoi John") that the Swift Boat crew trotted out in the 2004 presidential campaign -- in short, Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War made him an apostate beyond redemption. But Sampley was especially annoyed by McCain. He drummed up all sorts of weird suppositions, insinuations, innuendo and false assumptions about McCain -- who spent five years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war -- and basically accused him of being a Soviet agent. It's breathtaking and bizarre, but Sampley seemed to love being provocative more than he loved a scrupulous adherence to truth.
He strikes me as someone who fits the description of a blustery, if erratic small-town lawyer: often wrong, but never in doubt.
Oh, one more point. Sampley often described Kerry as a "Socialist Democrat." It's always amusing when people get red in the face about "socialism" or "socialized medicine," then seek treatment in government-run hospitals and clinics. Sampley died at 62 at a veterans hospital in Durham, N.C.
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