Man’s POW fraud leaves behind a trail of betrayal

0
947

Man’s POW fraud leaves behind a trail of betrayal
by Gretel Kovach

Shown left: John Powell competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Minnesota.

DALLAS They wanted to honor a disabled former Vietnam prisoner of war with a gift of custom-built rods. Instead, members of an online fishing group reeled in an impostor.

John Powell had inspired Texas athletes, wounded Iraq war veterans – even his wife – with his vivid descriptions of the three years he supposedly spent in captivity in Vietnam.

The catch: He was never a POW. He never even went to Vietnam.

“The history of Vietnam is being altered by these frauds,” said Mary Schantag, co-founder of the POW Network, which has been exposing phony POWs since 1989…

     

“It’s an epidemic.”

Powell, a frail, friendly man from Balch Springs, Texas, had aroused suspicion when he went begging online for a fishing boat.

“I was at the `Zoo’ in North Vietnam from `69 to `73. For some of you old-timers you will know where this is,” Powell said in the April posting to 2coolfishing.com.

Powell, 57, had told the story many times. Now he has something else to say: “For every veteran out there, I am sorry, I am sorry. It will never happen again. Never. I am going to fight this fight, and I’m going to win.”

Powell said he was diagnosed a year and a half ago with bipolar disorder and plans to begin medication soon.

Over the years, he had gone into great detail about his experiences in Vietnam.

In an article in The Bowling News, Powell said he had been filling in as a door gunner when the Viet Cong shot down his helicopter. He lay in the jungle for four days with a broken arm and leg, he said, fighting off the enemy with his last ammunition.

He claimed to have endured solitary confinement, forced to eat spiders and rats. He said he was tortured and held prisoner for 1,348 days.

“I returned from Vietnam … 30 years, 10 months and nine days ago. But I am glad to be home,” Powell said in a video posted until recently on the Dallas Stars Web site.

On the video made by Fox Sports Net, Stars players praised the gentleman they called the “Popcorn Man.” Powell worked at American Airlines Center delivering snacks to the players before games when he told them his tales of survival in Vietnam.

It’s true that Powell was in the Army. But the young private was discharged in 1968, having served less than a year in Alaska, his national service records show.

Kenneth Cordier, 69, of Dallas, a retired Air Force colonel who was held for more than six years as a POW in Vietnam, said he was not upset with Powell and other impostors.

“They’re just to be pitied as well as reviled. What kind of a weak, no-moral-fiber person would try to co-opt the story of real heroes?” he said, starting to sound angry after all.

And purported POWs aren’t the only problem. Phony Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Medal of Honor recipients, among others, outnumber the real thing.

Far fewer POWs returned from the Vietnam War than most people imagine. Only 660 came home alive, compared with 116,000 during World War II, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the end of 2005, 579 were still living.

Many combat veterans and survivors of torture and starvation in Vietnam and other wars say those who impersonate them are not just telling white lies. Sometimes, they’re committing a crime. It is illegal to wear phony military medals or make fraudulent claims for veterans’ benefits.

B.G. “Jug” Burkett of Dallas, co-author of the book “Stolen Valor,” and other veterans want to go further. He lobbied Capitol Hill to make lying about military honors punishable by fines or prison.

Cordier, the former POW, said: “They damage the honor of the real POWs.”

Powell said the first time he claimed to have been a POW might have been in the early `70s, not long after the young man from Des Moines, Iowa, left the Army and the real POWs were coming home.

Now, as his lies have caught up to him in Dallas, Powell said he has lost a lot of dear friends.

“I have a lot of respect for anybody that wears the uniform. It’s just that, maybe I wish I could have done more. Maybe I wish I was a better help and I wasn’t,” he said.

“During that time (1968), they were taking everybody. I probably shouldn’t have been taken into the service.”

In addition to bipolar disorder, Powell said, he has suffered small strokes that have caused him neurological damage. He also has osteoporosis and a fractured pelvis, he said.

Powell said he receives disability income and health care from the VA, the sole source of support for his wife and two young children.

The tall, thin man with slurred speech made a convincing former POW, said Jim Woodruff, who wrote about Powell for The Bowling News.

“He had everybody fooled. Everybody felt sorry for him,” said Woodruff, 80, who bowled in the same league as Powell.

“Good God, he looked like he had been in a prison camp in a hole for a long time. There was no reason to doubt him. I never did.”

Several Vietnam veterans said they suspected him from the start.

A group of fishermen who read Powell’s plea for a fishing boat had been so touched that they were willing to spend 40 hours or so making him two bass fishing rods. They had planned to adorn one with the POW flag and the other with the medal ribbons they thought he had earned.

But a member of RodBuilding.org, Owen McLean, a retired lieutenant commander with the U.S. Navy, looked for Powell’s name on the official list of Vietnam POWs posted online.

“It was obvious to me the guy was scamming something,” McLean said.

And the rods were never made.

McLean, a 59-year-old North Carolina high school math teacher, had been assigned in 1973 to work as an aide to former POWs returning from Vietnam.

“This guy was whining and crying,” he said. “Every (POW) I ever met had a very stiff backbone.”

McLean notified the POW Network, based in Skidmore, Mo., and its fraud investigators put out the word in Dallas about Powell.

“These guys are absolute used-car salesmen,” Schantag said. “The best you can do is let everyone around them know they are falsifying the claim.”

Not everyone wants to know that the nice old man they live next to has been lying to them all these years, she added.

Whether it’s to gain a drink at the bar, a friend or VA benefits, some phony veterans begin to have a hard time separating truth from fiction, said Jim Benson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If they tell it often enough, they start to believe it themselves,” he said.

Glendon Bentley, 48, of Rowlett, Texas, executive director of the Lone Star Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said group members had demanded to see Powell’s military records when he first joined in 2003.

They told him to stop telling people he had served in Vietnam and been a POW but allowed him to volunteer, under supervision, in the honor guard performing 21-gun salutes at veterans’ funerals.

Then they learned that Powell had appeared at a recent fishing tournament in Galveston, Texas, attended by wounded Iraq war veterans who may have thought that he was a POW, wearing Vietnam war ribbons. Last week, they expelled him from the group.

“It upset us quite a bit,” Bentley said. “I hope he gets the medical treatment he needs, or whatever he needs.”

Rob Scichili, a Dallas Stars spokesman, struck a similar note of compassion. “The Dallas Stars have no ill feelings toward John. We like John, and we wish him the best,” he said.

Powell lives in a simple brick home with a hand-painted American flag next to the front door.

Mary Powell, 46, said her husband is a good man, gentle and kind. But she discovered two years into their marriage that there was no truth to his tales of being a Vietnam POW.

“It bothered me quite a bit. … It had been like a burden in my mind all these years,” she said.

Now she hopes other veterans in the area will “try to find it within themselves to be forgiving.”

For his part, Powell said he’s still a patriot who loves the flag.

“This is America,” he said. “Everybody who served and served honorably can cuss me out and say whatever they want to me, because this is America.”


http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/news/nation/14609162.htm

ATTENTION READERS

We See The World From All Sides and Want YOU To Be Fully Informed
In fact, intentional disinformation is a disgraceful scourge in media today. So to assuage any possible errant incorrect information posted herein, we strongly encourage you to seek corroboration from other non-VT sources before forming an educated opinion.

About VT - Policies & Disclosures - Comment Policy
Due to the nature of uncensored content posted by VT's fully independent international writers, VT cannot guarantee absolute validity. All content is owned by the author exclusively. Expressed opinions are NOT necessarily the views of VT, other authors, affiliates, advertisers, sponsors, partners, or technicians. Some content may be satirical in nature. All images are the full responsibility of the article author and NOT VT.
Previous articleIraq is a war to be proud of
Next articlePresident signs bill restricting protests at military funerals