McCain's Attack on the Last Vietnam POW Underscores a History of Poor Discretion
Salam News
Tim King
May 28, 2008

John McCain, who isn't known for surrounding himself with winners, used a CIA confirmed enemy agent to discredit the last POW to leave Vietnam.

(SALEM, Ore.) - Two of John McCain's former campaign aids have recently been exposed for having ties to the oppressive military junta in Myanmar. That revelation joined several other problems within the McCain camp making news in recent months, and the repeated departures of his staff leave many questions about the Senator's ability to know good from bad when selecting his friends and sources.

In 1979, when the last POW unexpectedly returned from Vietnam with stories about other American POW's still alive, McCain went slightly ballistic and did everything he could to discredit a man who had been taken captive and held for an incredibly long 14 years.

The story of Marine Pfc Robert Garwood, the last POW to leave Vietnam, is a sad and twisted tale that most of us will never know the full truth about.

No bond existed between this Marine and McCain as fellow former POW's and Senator John McCain, who spent years as a prisoner of the Vietnamese during the war, turned on Garwood with a vengeance.

The Marine may have deserved McCain's wrath, but many people say the treatment from the Arizona Senator was way out of line.

One problem that stands out like a sore thumb, is the CIA's exposure of one of McCain's witnesses against Garwood, as a person who actually did work with the Viet Cong.

Garwood Reported Missing: 1965

Marine Pfc Bobby Garwood went missing in September 1965, a time before tensions over the Vietnam War went out of control in the United States. He was a jeep driver who went many places in his sector of Vietnam and he was the first Marine to be captured in the Vietnam war.

He would ultimately be accused of "going to the other side" and actually joining forces with the North Vietnamese. Accounts from other POW's who saw Garwood in captivity vary greatly. Some say he was working closely with the enemy, while others described his appearance in captivity as deplorable and emaciated, resembling a prisoner in a WWII concentration camp.

If Garwood conspired with the enemy as charged, then McCain and every other person who fought in the Vietnam War would have a right to bear animosity toward him, but too many people say he was set up and if he really went to the other side as accused, why did he do it when he had only ten days left in Vietnam?

It also seems odd that a voluntary deserter and turncoat would end up giving a note to a European tourist in Hanoi in 1979, asking him to contact the U.S. and tell them he was a POW alive there.

Garwood is said to have told the tourist that he knew the location of many more Americans being held in Vietnam. This became a major point of contention as it quickly made the press and even delayed Garwood's release by the Vietnamese government for a week, after they finally admitted he was there, something they initially denied according to reports.

McCain is Critical of Marine's POW Sightings

When it came to his claim of seeing other American POW's in the late 1970's, some elected officials backed Garwood, and others went for his throat. The leader of the pack with the loudest and most critical voice was Senator John McCain. He was especially bothered by the Garwood made-for-television movie called "The Last P.O.W." The Bobby Garwood Story which debuted on TV in 1992.

McCain didn't pull his punches, according to the Website for The 3rd Marines; he accused Pfc Garwood of being a traitor and a liar and continuing the anguish of the POW/MIA families by "lying" about having seen live Americans.

Of course one Senator's description of anguish, is another person or family's reason for hope. If there was any truth to his alleged sightings of post-war POW's, then it was hardly a disservice to the families of those men.

McCain said, "These efforts and other constitute an enduring betrayal of his country. And anyone who may be manipulating Garwood for their own ends is a co-conspirator in this betrayal."

He maintained that Garwood took up arms against American forces, guarded other American prisoners with rifles, used a bullhorn to encourage American soldiers to surrender and made propaganda broadcasts for the Vietnamese.

Garwood was also accused of leaving propaganda notes at the gates of American bases, but later under closer examination, they did not appear to have been written by a person with English as a first language and it is also reported that Garwood's signature originated from a rubber stamp.

McCain used testimony of Garwood's fellow prisoners to take the Marine to task and one person McCain used was Gustav Mehrer, a former POW who accused Garwood of trying to "recruit him into the North Vietnamese Army."

But that story fell apart when declassified CIA documents clearly showed Mehrer was believed to be the same SP4 Gustav Mehrer (also known as Gus Maddox) who was an American prisoner of war working for the Viet Cong near Quang Nam Province.

It isn't the entire picture, but certain parts of testimony that John McCain used to harm the legacy and image of the last POW of Vietnam to emerge alive, Bobby Garwood, are truly without credibility. That is a sad thing if this Marine is not guilty as charged.

It is a fascinating story that some will see as more evidence of McCain's inability to execute good decisions in selecting the people he works with. Others in reviewing the information, might see the Senator as a patriot who was determined to silence claims from a man who at least to some degree, had a questionable relationship with the Communist government of Vietnam.

God, Country and Corps

Marines are known for taking it on the chin a little too often in this country, and the Corps is often a favored target of funding cuts as it is not a military service but a "Department of the Navy".

Individual Marines who stray out of line often feel the wrath of police, politicians, the VA and the occasional ruthless military prosecutor anxious to take down a suspected "war criminal" under what sometimes appear to be almost speculative circumstances. It doesn't seem like a just reward for those who choose to serve their country under the most demanding conditions known to man.

For other reports about Marines on, visit: Marine Corps articles

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor. is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address:

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