Jan Scruggs Is Attacking His Fellow Veterans Again

By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
March 7, 1997

Chalk up another vintage Jan Scruggs poison pen attack on the Vietnam veteran activists who finance their organizations by selling POW/MIA and veteran related T-shirts near the Lincoln and Vietnam Veterans Memorials in Washington, D.C.

Scruggs, who is president and founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, bitterly complained in a March 2, 1997 Washington Post guest editorial that the activists, whom he described as "vendors" and "hawkers," are destroying the "integrity" and "heritage" of the Vietnam Veteran and Lincoln Memorials. He said the 24-hour POW/MIA vigil sites are "an ugly presence" and that the "courts or Congress must end this travesty" by "evicting" the activists from federal land.

In 1995, the National Park Service joined Scruggs in his crusade to eradicate the POW/MIA activists from the Mall and passed regulations outlawing T-shirt sales in Washington's federal parks. Prior to the new regulations, the Park Service had recognized the constitutional right of groups to sell T-shirts imprinted with advocacy messages. The activists banned together and appealed the regulations and are now awaiting a judge's decision as to whether or not they will be allowed to continue their vigils.

Scruggs' latest attack is one of many that have appeared in the national news media since early 1993 when he declared the POW/MIA issue a "non-issue." He reasoned the time had come for the United States to stop spending money on what he said was "a lost cause" and that continued "unfounded" accusations about Vietnam still holding U.S. servicemen as prisoners of war was hindering the "reconciliation and healing" between the peoples of Vietnam and America.

In 1982, Scruggs became a national figure and American folk hero for pushing his dream of a national Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington until it became a reality. The Wall was dedicated on Veteran's Day of that year. Ironically, Scruggs' dream might never have come true had it not been for the help of Texas billionaire and POW/MIA activist Ross Perot, who provided more than $160,000 in start-up money desperately needed by Scruggs to launch a national memorial campaign.

According to a conveyance agreement signed by President Ronald Reagan, the Memorial Fund should have dissolved in 1984. Scruggs refused to let it happen and instead made the Memorial Fund a permanent organization whose board of directors is exclusive and hand picked by him.

Scruggs' excuse for hanging on to the Memorial Fund is that the Wall is a "holy shrine," of which he is its keeper and that he and his Memorial Fund must continue to raise money to ensure that the "shrine" is properly maintained.

During the last three years, the Memorial Fund has been the subject of national news reports questioning what it does with the millions of dollars raised allegedly for "maintaining the Wall," a responsibility that is taken care of by the taxpayer. When Reagan signed the conveyance agreement, the Department of the Interior took over all responsibilities of maintenance and security of the Wall.

The Memorial Fund has raised an additional $10,000,000 since the original $7,000,000 used to build the memorial. Much of the new money is believed to have come from the corporations who continue to lobby for normalized relations with Vietnam.

In a July 13, 1993 USA Today guest editorial, Scruggs actually compared himself to Jesus Christ and his campaign against the activists to that of the Messiah overturning the tables of moneychangers and chasing them out of the temple. He rationalized that activists should not be allowed to sell T-shirts and POW/MIA bracelets near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because "moneychangers" do not belong in a "place of worship."

Scruggs appears to actually believe he is a Messiah and that the Wall is a "sacred" place of worship. He is convinced he built a shrine where anyone, whether Vietnam veteran, war protester, draft dodger or politician, can be healed--just come to the Wall and repent before the 58,000 chiseled names of dead and missing American servicemen and be cleansed of the pains of the Vietnam War.

It is obvious Scruggs is trapped in his self-concocted philosophy of the "healing powers" of the Wall. Much of his personal income is dependent upon his "healing and reconciliation" lectures, for which corporations pay $5000 to $10,000 per appearance.

Scruggs is paid well to tell others about the "healing process" and "inner peace and tranquillity" that so many veterans and citizens alike have found at his Wall. Yet, the demons of Vietnam still haunt him. He cannot let go of the Vietnam War or the Memorial Fund and is obsessed with controlling what Americans should feel and think about the Vietnam War.

If the Wall has a mystical power to heal, then why was Scruggs' close friend, Lewis Puller, Jr. not able to find peace and acceptance? Why did he give up and commit suicide?

Puller was a Vietnam veteran and the son of Gen. "Chesty" Puller, the most decorated member of the Marine Corps. In Vietnam, young Puller served as a Marine combat leader, losing his legs and part of his hands in 1968 when he tripped a mine while trying to escape from a Viet Cong ambush. His body was riddled with shrapnel, yet somehow he survived after long months in a hospital bed. Puller's book, "Fortunate Son," which chronicled his valiant struggle to survive as an invalid in the aftermath of the war, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Personally, I have often wondered where Scruggs and the other Memorial Fund veterans were when Puller needed them the most. Puller was one of the Memorial Fund's strongest supporters. He even went back to Vietnam in 1993 carrying Scruggs' message of "reconciliation." He co-founded in 1994 the Vietnamese Memorial Association and began raising money to aid people in Vietnam. Puller often spoke of his visits to the Wall and the emotions he experienced while there.

Why didn't the healing powers of the Wall work for Lewis Puller? If Scruggs and the Memorial Fund veterans had worried less about the North Vietnamese veterans and more about what's happening to the war veterans in this country, maybe they would have noticed that their friend Lewis desperately needed them.

The Wall is not sacred and it has no mystical power to heal. It is the seemingly endless lines of names, each representing a life given for this country that makes the Wall special. The Wall is there to honor their sacrifices and as a tribute to those who came home alive.

Groups occupying the vigils are nonprofit organizations led by Vietnam veterans. The vigils are run by veterans and POW/MIA family members, not "hawkers" and "vendors." POW/MIA activists have maintained vigils near the Wall since the day of its dedication and whether Scruggs likes it or not, they have became a part of the memorial's legacy and heritage.

The vigils operate with permits, issued by the National Park Service, in areas where the Park Service has for years allowed private contractors to sell beer, hotdogs, ice cream, posters, pens, film, hats, trinkets, etc. The activists who maintain these vigils through rain, sleet and snow deserve appreciation, not Scruggs' vindictive and poisonous attacks.

But he does attack, again and again. Armed with the power of $10,000,000 in donated money and a force of $500-an-hour attorneys, Scruggs maintains a small, but powerful, political empire which he sanctimoniously guards with malice if necessary.

Many vets cynically refer to Scruggs as the "Godfather of the Wall," because of his possessiveness of the memorial. He has dictatorial control over all official ceremonies at the Wall, including who is or is not invited to speak.

After inviting President Clinton to speak at the Wall for Memorial Day, 1993, Scruggs, it was reported, offered the most coveted seats near the apex of the Wall for a $500 per chair "donation" to the Memorial Fund.

Although Scruggs claims the Wall must be protected from politics, his invitation to Clinton, who left the United States rather than fight in the Vietnam War, was political. Clinton's appearance there resulted in one of the ugliest demonstrations ever to take place at the memorial. At a critical point in the 1992 presidential campaign, an ungrateful Scruggs also unleashed a bitter attack on Perot, who was an independent presidential candidate running against Clinton. Scruggs implied through his attacks that the benevolent billionaire was unfit to be president.

Added to the controversy is Scruggs' friendship with Hanoi advocates Sens. John Kerry and John McCain and their hatred for POW/MIA activists. Scruggs and his Memorial Fund board of directors have not hesitated to publish their opinions supporting efforts of U.S. corporate giants to do business with communist Vietnam.

When President Clinton normalized trade and diplomatic relations with Hanoi, Scruggs and his so-called nonpolitical, nonprofit Memorial Fund joined Kerry and McCain in praising Clinton's decision even though the two major POW/MIA family groups and most veterans organizations opposed closer U.S. ties to Vietnam.

Some say Scruggs' fall to the dark side results from the power and influence he gained after years of rubbing elbows with powerful Washington politicians, including Presidents Bush and Clinton and Sens. McCain and Kerry.

In any case, Scruggs' campaign against T-shirt sales on the Mall is not about the desecration of Washington's memorials. It is about his fanatical attempts to please his political friends by censoring the POW/MIA activists.

The T-shirt controversy started in late 1991 after I refused to allow Homecoming II Project, of which I was the unpaid chairman, to pay the Memorial Fund royalties on T-shirts sold at the Homecoming II POW/MIA vigil. Other vigils were paying the Memorial Fund. One group paid more than $30,000 in what some vets were classifying as "homage" to Scruggs.

Scruggs accused Homecoming II of violating the Memorial Fund's copyright on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He hired one of Washington's most influential law firms and spent over a $100,000 of Memorial Fund money, suing Homecoming II and a construction company which I owned and me personally.

Neither Homecoming II or I had money to properly fight Scruggs' battery of high powered attorneys. His lawyers argued that a copyright owned by the Memorial Fund was violated when Homecoming II sold POW/MIA T-shirts imprinted with the image of the "Three Servicemen Statue," which is a part of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Homecoming II's lawyer argued that the statue is a national symbol belonging to all the people and that the Memorial Fund could not demand royalties because a national memorial maintained by the government and located on public property could not be copyrighted.

Attorneys for the Memorial Fund countered, arguing that the statue is not a national symbol. They said it is a piece of "military art," on which the Memorial Fund owns a legitimate copyright.

The judge agreed with Scruggs' lawyers and in 1993 awarded the Memorial Fund an unprecedented $359,000 judgment against Homecoming II, my construction company and me personally.

Not satisfied with that victory, Scruggs launched a second front of attacks, this time against all veteran's groups operating near the Wall. He began his editorial writing campaign painting the vigils as a "desecration" of the Washington memorials.

In April 1994, the Lenoir County of North Carolina Sheriff's Department served notice on me that Scruggs and his Memorial Fund had foreclosed and was demanding possession of all assets. Fortunately, I had already dissolved Homecoming II and my construction company. Unfortunately, Scruggs' lawyers slapped the judgment on my home and a business property and scheduled an auction. That is where a line was drawn in the sand.

On the day of the auction, a dozen POW/MIA activists, to whom I am forever grateful, showed up on the court house steps telling the press they intended to disrupt the auction. Scruggs' lawyers got the message and withdrew.

The pressure of possibly losing everything we owned and had worked for was particularly hard on my wife, whose father in still missing in action as a result of the Vietnam War and is listed on the Wall. Our marriage did not survive the stress. The Memorial Fund still holds the $359,000 judgment on my property.

Scruggs Goes On The Road With A Counterfeit Moving Wall

At about the same time Reagan was signing the conveyance agreement in 1984, Vietnam Combat Veterans Ltd., of San Jose, Calif., began traveling about the nation with what has come to be known as the "Moving Wall," a scaled-down version of the Wall.

With the leadership of Vietnam veteran John Devitt, Vietnam Combat Veterans displayed the "Moving Wall" in communities throughout the United States, allowing Americans unable to visit the memorial in Washington an opportunity to see the Wall.

"This was being done," Devitt said, "without a buck being made" in profits. We were taking in only enough money to pay for the expenses of moving the Wall around the country.

Then, in 1992, along came Scruggs and the giant cemetery corporation, Service Corporation International (SCI), which had copied the "Moving Wall." With Scruggs as a featured speaker accompanying it, SCI used this Moving Wall to snare veterans into buying cemetery plots.

"SCI manages to obtain the names of local vets in each community where its Wall is to appear in one of its cemeteries," Devitt explained to the press. "Then, through telemarketing, they offer the vets various deals on buying cemetery plots and end the conversation by inviting them to see 'the Wall.'"

As a result, SCI reaped the benefits of its counterfeit copy of the "Moving Wall" and Scruggs was paid $1,000 per month and $2,500 to $5,000 per speech by the cemetery plot hawkers. Scruggs said he typically charges $6,500 for motivational speeches to companies, calling the lower charge for his Moving Wall speech "reasonable."

In responding to complaints about his speaking charges, Scruggs said, "I guess my response would be: What's the big deal?" Scruggs added, "it's not money coming out of their [the veterans] pocket."

Scruggs dismissed criticism by stating that Devitt "doesn't understand" that "the memorial doesn't belong to John Devitt because he was the first guy on the block. No one owns it, he doesn't own it."

But Scruggs Does Claim Ownership Of The Wall

As a tactic to halt a veteran's group from building a smaller version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Pensacola, Fla., known as the "Wall South," Scruggs, in 1992, claimed the Memorial Fund owned the design rights to the Wall and threatened the vets with legal action. To avoid any potential legal action, the "Wall South" was altered. The redesign set back construction for three months and cost the sponsors additional funds for the project.

"I was bluffing," Scruggs later admitted. "We never had any copyright over the Wall design."

"I'm angered that he would use such a ploy," Bill Corbin, a director of the Vietnam Veterans Wall South Foundation, said. "It would have been no worse than spitting on the grave of a veteran."

CBS Questions The Fundraising Techniques Of The Memorial Fund

On rare occasions, some of the Memorial Fund's jaded activities are exposed. The following is a verbatim transcript of a TV segment titled "Vietnam Veterans Memorial fundraising techniques questioned." The program aired April 20, 1994 on CBS This Morning.

HARRY SMITH, co-host: Our country's national monuments are the markers of our history, so preserving them is important to all of us, including the most visited memorial in the country, Washington's Vietnam Wall. But our consumer correspondent, Hattie Kauffman, found out questions have come up about fundraising to maintain the Wall that could hurt it far more than the cracks in its surface.

Good morning.

HATTIE KAUFFMAN reporting: Good morning, Harry. In 1982, the nonprofit known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund raised more than $8 million to build the Wall--certainly an honorable feat. But 12 years after it was finished, the Fund is still raising millions of dollars every year.

One fundraising letter among the thousands sent asks for money for the upkeep of the memorial. Another states how proud the donor should be that the Wall is being kept in tip-top condition. But when people donate money, how much of it is going to maintaining the Wall? Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate is investigating the Fund's activities.

Mr. ERNIE PREATE (Pennsylvania Attorney General): They clearly try to create the impression that they are the sole organization that maintains this wall, and--and that simply is not true. The prime group that maintains this wall is the United States Park Service.

KAUFFMAN: Jan Scruggs, the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, says the issue is a matter of interpretation.

Mr. JAN SCRUGGS (President, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund): When he is thinking of maintenance of the Wall, he seems to be thinking about mowing the grass and providing park police for security. When we think of maintenance of the Wall, we--we are more geared towards thinking of the special maintenance, things that the government cannot provide.

KAUFFMAN: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund built the Wall with donations, but when it was completed, like all of U.S. monuments, the Wall came under the care of the National Parks Service.

Mr. PREATE: This organization raised $4.6 million over the last three years on the claims that it is going to maintain--use that money to maintain the Wall. In fact, under our conservative estimates, we can see that it--only about $230,000, or only 5 percent, has actually gone into events and maintenance of the--the Wall area.

Mr. SCRUGGS: We have a direct-mail program that raises money to help maintain the memorial and to help with educational programs associated with it.

KAUFFMAN: Attorney General Preate says many of those direct-mail letters are misleading and fraudulent.

Mr. PREATE: People who are receiving direct-mail solicitation are thinking that their money is the sole money that is going to maintain the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

KAUFFMAN: 1992 tax records show that the charity raised over $2 million that year. Only $180,000 was spent on taking care of the Wall, while $630,000 was spent on fundraising. The remaining money went to public education and ceremonies to commemorate the Wall.

In 1984, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was asked by the federal government to help maintain the Wall in case of catastrophe. They've purchased eight replacement panels of granite just in case. Two years ago, they fixed a portion of the sidewalk. But only three weeks ago, the Fund hired an engineering firm to begin studying the small hairline cracks that first appeared on the Wall in 1984, what the Fund calls maintenance. But do those cracks signify a catastrophe? Recently, Scruggs pointed out the cracks in the Wall to CBS THIS MORNING.

Mr. SCRUGGS: The visible effects are essentially a--a series of cracks which are about the width of three strands of hair together which go through names such as Curters Burnett and Robert Standerwick.

KAUFFMAN: According to the National Park Service, a 1990 report commissioned by the Fund found that the cracks in the Wall were part of the stone.

Mr. ARNOLD GOLDSTEIN (National Park Service): The cracks were natural geological cracks that formed in the granite and that the cracks were in the granite when the blocks of granite were brought to the United States.

KAUFFMAN: The National Park Service and the American taxpayer are already spending more than $750,000 a year to take care of the Wall. It's a sum the Park Service says adequately covers the needs of the monument.

SMITH: Kind of a sad story.


SMITH: Thanks, Hattie.

If Scruggs Is A True Believer -- His Neck Hair Should Be Standing

If Scruggs truly believes his teachings about the "mystical" powers of the Wall, then the hair on the back of his neck should be standing straight up.

In trying to justify his case to CBS for the need to raise more money, Scruggs placed his finger on one of the hairline cracks in the granite Wall. When the camera zoomed in Scruggs' finger was touching the name Robert Standerwick. Col. Standerwick has been listed missing in action in Laos since Feb. 3, 1971. The Standerwicks are long time POW/MIA activists. Two of his three daughters were on the board of directors of Homecoming II Project, which Scruggs destroyed with his copyright lawsuit.

© 1997 US Veteran Dispatch, all rights reserved. Reprinted with Permission.

The PoW/MIA Forum feels that if Jan Scruggs wants to start playing games again, then we, as family members, veterans and activists, should rally around the US Veteran Dispatch and let Scruggs know in no uncertain terms that we will not stand for any of it. Period.

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