- Claim: A POW spat at Fonda, for which he was brutally beaten.
This story is attributed in the email to former Air Force pilot Jerry Driscoll, who's on record as saying it's false and didn't originate from him. I wasn't able to speak with him directly, but Mike McGrath and Paul Galanti, fellow officers of the Nam-POWs organization to which Driscoll belongs, both told me he unequivocally disavows the story.
[UPDATE: After this commentary was written I received personal confirmation from Jerry Driscoll that the story is indeed bogus as he put it, "the product of a very vivid imagination."]
Mike McGrath, currently serving as the president of Nam-POWs, has worked hard to help Driscoll and Carrigan squelch the false rumors circulating under their names.
"They would like to get their names removed but the story seems to have a life of its own," he told me. "There are a lot of folks out there who would love to have a story like that to hang their hat and their hate on."
Claim: POWs were beaten for refusing to cooperate or meet with Fonda during her visit.
The final anecdote in the "Hanoi Jane" email recounts the experience of a POW who agreed to meet with Fonda but announced to his captors that he planned on telling her how horrid conditions in North Vietnamese prison camps really were.
"Because of this," the narrative continues, "I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a piece of steel placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane every time my arms dipped."
Those words were written by Michael Benge, a civilian adviser captured by the Viet Cong in 1968 and held as a POW for 5 years. When I contacted him, Benge confirmed that the story was indeed his own, and true.
Entitled "Shame on Jane," Benge's original statement on the matter was web-posted in April 1999 by the Advocacy and Intelligence Network for POWs and MIAs. The text was clearly cribbed from that or another website and combined with the fictitious anecdotes above to create the "Hanoi Jane" email that still circulates to this day.
Ex-POW: 'None of us are members of the Jane Fonda Fan Club'
A good cause is never well served by lies, and that's how all of the ex-POWs I spoke or corresponded with about the falsehoods in this message felt. Paul Galanti said: "None of us are members of the Jane Fonda Fan Club, but these fabrications are something she just did not do."
No one had an answer to the question, "Who made up these stories, and why?" but both Carrigan and McGrath expressed serious doubt that it was a POW.
"She did enough to place her name in the trash bin of history," McGrath explained. "None of us need to make up stories on her."
Jane Fonda could not be reached for comment.
Last updated 03/26/13