I have been trying to get to the bottom of this NewsMax story. Both Ted Sampley and John LeBoutillier were kind enough to return emails. Ted informed me that the incident occurred "in front of about four of five Secret Service agents, several park rangers, a school tour group, and several veterans."
John LeBoutillier informed me that there were people around but the incident occurred quite quickly - "1 or 2 seconds" - before Kerry left the area. Mr. LeBoutillier did affirm that the Secret Service agents did witness the incident, and did see Sen. Kerry make the gesture towards Mr. Sampley.
In addition to the email, Mr. Sampley was kind enough to field some questions on the phone and provide me with a few names of people who could verify the story. Mr. Sampley informed me that incident occurred away from the area that is considered sacred ground by Vietnam Vets, slightly to the left of the wall, towards the Lincoln Memorial area and "not in the apex" area.
When asked if NewsMax embellished the story at all, Mr. Sampley stated that he didn't believe that the story had been embellished; however, the story did give the impression that the exchange happened while Kerry was surrounded by school children, which, Mr. Sampley has stated, is not the case. Mr. Sampley said that there were children in the area, to Kerry's back as Kerry was walking away, who may have seen the obscene gesture if they were looking in Kerry's direction.
If I understood Mr. Sampley correctly, Kerry was turning to walk away, and as an afterthought, turned back towards Sampley and extended his middle finger, the children being in the same general direction as Sampley. If any of the children were looking in Kerry's direction, they would have watched the incident transpire.
When asked if there was any media present in the area when the event occurred, Sampley said no, that there was media closer to the wall, but that none of the press, to his knowledge, has a picture of the exchange. Mr. Sampley does, however, believe that there is a good chance that a tourist in the area could possibly have captured the exchange in the background on a camcorder or a lucky photo. Sampley stated that he has viewed a fake picture on the internet, but none that he can verify as being legitimate.
Mr. Sampley also verified that after Kerry made the obscene gesture that Kerry said (not shouted) to a bewildered onlooker who witnessed the event "he's a convicted felon." When asked whether Sampley has ever been convicted of a felony, Sampley said "No" and that he had "never been convicted of a felony in his life."
When asked if he would consider filing a civil suit against Kerry, who slandered Sampley by calling him a felon, he answered no. Mr. Sampley seemed to take personal attacks against him as just part of life and dealing with people who disagree with him politically.
Concerning some of the reports about Sampley's past, Sampley stated that the majority of attacks against him are completely false. Sampley also stated that the primary source of attacks against him comes from a book whose stated sources include Senator McCain and Senator Kerry, both senators served in Vietnam and Sampley has been highly critical of both in his POW/MIA literature that he produces. Sampley does admit to an incident which occurred with a (former?) McCain staffer, who by all accounts made the first physical contact; however, making a slight physical contact does not give the other party, in this case Sampley, a license to respond with greater force, which is what seems to have occurred.
One of the names Sampley provided of persons who could verify the story is a 61 year old woman who had been present the day Kerry Testified before Congress about Vietnam war atrocities, Donna Long. I spoke with Long briefly today. Long did indeed verify having witnessed the incident, the "one finger salute" is how she refers to it. Donna Long stated that she was standing 30 feet away looking directly towards Kerry, who was standing near a bike rack when the incident happened, and she watched as he turned to the left and bought up his right hand to give the 'one finger salute' to Sampley. Long said she did not hear the exchange between Sampley and Kerry, but believes Sampley had been calling Kerry "Hanoi John."
Long also claims that the press has misquoted her, having identified her as an unidentified middle aged woman who asked Kerry "Are you going to spit?" Long admits to having said to Kerry, "Did you visit your band of brothers at the wall, the ones you called Genghis Kahn?" When she said this, the Secret service stepped between her and Kerry and asked her to step back, to which long replied, "You should be more concerned about him (Kerry) than me... if he trips behind you he might call you a Son of a *****."
Mr. Sampley said I could call him again Monday to get the names and contact information of additional people who witnessed the event. He also suggested I contact the park rangers, who he has said witnessed the event.
I am going to try to get in contact with the Secret Service, but I am not sure if they will give me any information about the alleged exchange. I am not fully convinced the event took place... I would not stake my reputation on my discussions with Mr. Sampley and Ms. Long; however, having talked with each of them on the phone, I don't believe they were lying to me. I will let Esoteric * Visitors decide for themselves what to believe.