SSG Theodore Lane Sampley was a veteran’s icon. His accomplishments were many and notable. For me, I will remember that he was able to bring at least one MIA home. During his search for any information about POW’s and MIA’s he was able to match information from the location of a pilot shot down over Vietnam with artifacts of the Vietnam Unknown buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Ted correctly assumed the Vietnam Unknown was Air Force Lieutenant Michael Blassie.
After much effort he convinced Lt. Blassie’s family to demand that the Unknown be disinterred and DNA testing to be done. The results were conclusive. The Vietnam Unknown was known. The remains were that of Lt. Michael Blassie. Lt. Blassie’s remains were returned to his family and are now buried in the National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri. That is the crown jewel of Ted’s efforts, at least one soldier came home.
Herman H. Mc Lawhorn, Walk of Honor Curator. May 21, 2009
A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, he enlisted in the Army in 1963. Two years later, he was deployed to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, where he did a year’s tour of duty as a combat infantryman. Afterwards he became a Green Beret and served another tour leading and training a Civilian Irregular Defense Group along the Cambodian border, earning four Bronze Stars, an Army Commendation Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After returning to Fort Bragg to train other Special Forces soldiers for duty in Vietnam, he left the Army in 1973 with the rank of staff sergeant.
Following his honorable discharge, Sampley worked in journalism and then settled in Kinston, North Carolina, where he opened a craft store selling ceramics, an art he had learned from local artisans in his off-duty time while stationed on Okinawa at the beginning of his military career. In the early 1980s he began his activism, after learning that not all the POWs and MIAs in Vietnam at the end of the war had been accounted for, joining groups demanding that the U.S. put pressure on the Vietnamese government. He started and published U.S. Veterans Dispatch, a newspaper primarily devoted to the issue.
He is credited for his role in organizing the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle event in Washington. In Kinston, North Carolina, where he lived for much of his adult life, he was known for his local civic activism, most notably his effort to build a replica of the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse, the only full-size replica of a Confederate ironclad, in the city’s downtown. In 2002 the Neuse II Foundation was established and construction on the vessel began. Local volunteers spent the next several months putting timbers into place; the 158-foot (48 m) replica is the only full-size replica of a Confederate ironclad. It opened to tourists in 2009.
Ted died on May 12, 2009 from complications of heart surgery.