Is John McCain a War Hero?

The senator's five years as a prisoner of war have been widely viewed as heroic. But as he prepares a White House bid, a small group of detractors is determined to expose him as a wartime traitor

Sampley made more headlines when he put a bamboo cage filled with the daughters of POW/MIAs on then-presidential chief of staff Don Regan's front lawn. Sampley and the group that came to be known as the "North Carolina Crazies" took 1,500 care packages--Bibles, toothpaste, food and clothing addressed to individual POW/MIAs--to the Laos Embassy in Washington, D.C. When the Laotians threw him out, Sampley dumped the packages on the front lawn of National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci.

"Carlucci had to get five Army trucks there to get them out of his yard," Sampley recalls.

Sampley sponsored a Rambo of the Year award for anyone who could plant a POW flag within 30 feet of the White House without being shot.

It was all a joke, he insists. "People did start climbing it [the White House fence], but no one was trying to get over it. But they [police] were beating people off the fence with night sticks.

"The whole objective, it was a Gandhi-type thing, take the night sticks, take the hits, get the attention, get the press. This went on for years. . . . That probably got me the reputation that I've got now."

Sampley wasn't present for his most famous trick. In 1992, he planted hecklers to disrupt President Bush's speech to the National League of Families. Sampley wasn't allowed in the room, but when Bush began speaking, the crowd began yelling, "No more lies! No more lies!"

With the cameras rolling, Bush--frustrated, after repeated attempts to quiet the hecklers--yelled, "Sit down and shut up!"

Sampley's first POW/MIA-related newspaper debuted in 1986. He called it Bamboo Connection, and while the name has changed a few times over the years, he still publishes a paper today. You can find it at

Although his antics detract from his credibility, Sampley has had some journalistic successes--including one just last year. His early reporting led to a CBS News story that prompted the U.S. government to open the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and do DNA testing on what proved to be the remains of Air Force pilot Michael Blassie. His work earned Sampley a "Laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review.

His coverage of John McCain has been spotty, at best.

Sampley says he first met McCain in the Eighties, while McCain was still in the U.S. House. Sampley dropped by to say hello and discuss the POW/MIA issue.

At the time, Sampley did not consider McCain to be a foe. But it quickly became clear that the two had little in common when it came to the POW/MIA movement.

Sampley recalls, "When we started talking about the POW issue, he [McCain] got fidgety, he got agitated. . . . He started pacing back and forth."

Sampley says McCain got up in the middle of the discussion and walked out of his office. Sampley followed McCain into the hallway.

"Finally, as we got outside, he just walked off and left me. . . . Out of his office, out of his building, down the street and he walked faster than me, and I got the hint he didn't want to talk to me anymore.

"At that point, I didn't make a big deal out of it, other than thinking, 'This guy's a loony tune.'"

He says he started looking more closely at McCain during the Senate hearings in 1991-92.

Sampley dug up McCain's 1973 U.S. News & World Report article, as well as the interview with the Spanish psychiatrist and the piece by the French journalist.

"Through that, through his own words . . . and my training as an interrogator, I locked onto him. I locked onto what he was saying. And the key thing was when he said, 'I told them that if you'll take me to a doctor I'll give you military information.'

"That went BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Bad. Wrong, wrong. That violated everything--the whole Code of Conduct was violated there. And I saw that he was trying to cover himself, there must be more to it."

Sampley's reporting spun out of control. He dubbed the senator the "Manchurian Candidate," suggesting that McCain was a pawn of the Vietnamese because he was afraid they would reveal the true extent of his "collaboration" during the war.

"I'll say it now, that eventually--it may not be any time soon--it will come out. This stuff will come out. The exact amount of his collaboration will come out. He was a serious collaborator."

Sampley offers no credible proof of these allegations, other than quotes from unnamed former POWs and suggestions that the Vietnamese still have film of McCain's activities in the prison camps. The Manchurian Candidate theory, Sampley maintains, is the only plausible explanation for McCain's behavior on the POW/MIA issue.

"Explain to me why John McCain would turn on us, the families," he asks. "Why would he hug Colonel Bui Tin? . . . Bui Tin, whether he defected or not, was one of the Communists responsible for the policy that killed American prisoners of war and kept McCain and others in prison.

"It's not that McCain loves the Vietnamese, he loves himself. He doesn't want them dropping the dime on him, so to speak, making the phone call on him, making available to the American public the extent to which he collaborated in order to save his own skin."

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