Entries in Navy Veterans (2)


Texas Navy Veteran Memorizes Names of 2,200 Slain Military Members

ABC News(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- It was a solemn scene Thursday as U.S. Navy veteran Ron White stood at a black wall in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, and wrote in white the full name and rank of each of the 2,200 military members who had died in Afghanistan.

What made the act even more moving was that White had no list. He had memorized the 2,200 names and ranks, more than 7,000 words.

"A couple of years ago, I was looking at the Vietnam Wall and just started thinking, 'What's the Afghanistan memorial going to look like?'" White told "Then I started thinking about that, and I thought, 'I wonder if I could memorize the Vietnam Wall' and that evolved into 'Wait a minute, why don't you memorize the names from Afghanistan? That's the war you served in.'"

White, 39, did a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007.

"Then I just set out to memorize all the names," he said. "The message I wanted to say is, you guys are not forgotten. I'm going to do my part to keep your memory alive, and so that is the message of the wall. You are not forgotten."

White doesn't have a photographic memory, but he is a two-time USA Memory Champion who has made memorization his business over the past 22 years. He teaches a memory class and speaks professionally about how to improve memory.

He began working on memorizing the 2,200 names in May 2012, using the centuries-old loci method ("loci" is Latin for "place").

"Essentially, what you do is you memorize a map of your city, your town where you live," White said. "So there's 2,200 service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice. So that means I memorized 2,200 locations in my hometown of Forth Worth, Texas."

The locations included places and sign posts like stop signs, trees, walls, pictures, restaurant booths and restaurant cash registers. He then took each name and turned it into a picture that reminded him of that person, and he visualized a name at each location.

"When I was at the wall, I simply stood at the wall and took an 11-hour mental walk around downtown Fort Worth and wrote out the names," White said. "I was very, very, very focused on the wall, but I was also very conscious of what was going on behind me. It was a very solemn, emotional day. People were just standing there in silence."

As he wrote, White said he kept hearing a woman mention the name Austin Staggs in conversation, one name among the lost soldiers.

"Finally, I turned around and I said, 'Ma'am, did you know Private First Class Austin Staggs?'" White recalled. "And she said, 'Yes, he was my grandson, and I'm going to stand right here and watch you write these names until you get to his name.'"

White told her it would be close to three hours before he reached Staggs' name, but the woman said she would stay. And she did.

"I enjoyed watching him write the names," Staggs' grandmother, Marion Buckner, told "It just gave me chills, really. You see how many families are affected."

Staggs was in a group of six soldiers who died in Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2010. He was 19 years old. He left behind a son who is now 4 years old.

"He doesn't look so much like Austin, but he has ways like him," Buckner said. "You see him and remember Austin vividly."

Buckner said her daughter, Staggs' mother, arrived at the wall just before White wrote her son's name.

"It just did my heart good when I saw [White] writing his name. It just really made me feel like he really cared about these boys. He had respect for them," said Buckner.

"It was just so personal," White said. "When I wrote out 'Private First Class Austin Staggs,' I was so emotional my hand was shaking."

He said that scene replayed itself again later in the day when a man arrived and said he'd heard about what White was doing on the radio and came to the wall to see his son's name.

White plans to travel with the project around the country, doing the same thing in other cities. He wants to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that helps wounded service members adjust to civilian life, and he encourages people to donate to the group.

"It was such an emotional day, and it was my way of paying respect to these men and their families, letting them know that, yes, the world has gone on and that's why this sacrifice was made, so the world could go on, but I haven't forgotten," said White.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Feds Catch Navy Veterans Charity 'Scammer'

Multnomah County Sheriff's Dept./U.S. Marshals(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- The man accused of setting up a fake Navy Veterans charity and siphoning away millions of dollars was captured by U.S. Marshals in Portland, Ore., after nearly two years on the run.

The alleged con artist, who went by the name Bobby Thompson, continued to refuse to reveal his identity after Marshals took him into custody Monday night, according to the Ohio Attorney General's office.

"We've been following him all over the country," Pete Elliott, the U.S. Marshal in northern Ohio who headed the three-man fugitive task force, told ABC News. "We finally caught up with him last night."

Investigators are still unsure of the true identity of "Thompson" and will be working on that as well as identifying his ongoing criminal activity. "Thompson" was transported to the Multnomah County Jail where he will await extradition to Northern Ohio.

Elliott called the case "one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date."

As detailed in an ABC News investigation, the mustachioed man known as Thompson was charged in Ohio in 2010 on counts of identity theft, fraud, and money laundering in connection with a bogus charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that raised more than $100 million from unsuspecting donors around the country.

To help enhance the charity's credibility, Thompson allegedly used some of the money to make large campaign contributions to prominent politicians, most of them Republicans, including President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and Ohio Rep. John Boehner, now Speaker of the House. He attended events with the political figures, and posed proudly for now infamous photos with them.

"We are relieved Bobby Thompson is now in federal custody after a nationwide manhunt and years of work within the Attorney General's Office to track him down," Ohio Attorney General DeWine said. "We still don't know the true identity of the man known as Bobby Thompson, who has used the identity of several other people throughout the years. But we commend the teamwork with our federal partners in this case. This case sends a strong message that we will not tolerate scam artists in Ohio."

Elliott told the St. Petersburg Times, which first began raising questions about the charity in 2009, that the man seemed shocked at finding agents on his doorstep, but said nothing.

"He just said he wasn't going to give us any information. And he hasn't," Elliott told the newspaper.

The fugitive had neither a beard nor mustache when he was arrested, the paper reported. Otherwise, Elliott said, he looked the same, but was in "poor" physical condition and walking with a cane. He was carrying a backpack with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Earlier in 2012, Elliott told ABC News he believed the marshals were on Thompson's heels, and closing in.

"We've developed some really good leads and we're on those leads," he said. "I feel very confident we'll be able to apprehend him."

In 2009, the first questions began surfacing about the veterans' charity, with the Florida paper finding that none of the members of its board could be located, and its addresses seemed only to lead to post office boxes. Most of the money the charity had purported to raise was unaccounted for, and as authorities began following up on the reports, Thompson vanished.

In the fall of 2011, Florida lawmaker Darryl Rouson told ABC News he had initially helped the man he thought was Bobby Thompson. "He seemed to be a knowledgeable man about politics and community affairs," Rouson said. "He was engaging, jovial. I had no reason to suspect he was anything other than who he said he was."

Thompson had last been seen in the lobby of a New York City hotel as Ohio authorities had begun investigating the veterans' charity. Ohio officials said Thompson had stolen the identity of a real man named Bobby Thompson from Washington state. He also had an identity card from the state of Indiana issued under the name of a man from New Mexico named Ronnie Brittain, they added. The real Ronnie Brittain is the head of a veterans group in New Mexico.

Marshals based in Ohio took over the manhunt last year, with Elliott heading up the effort.

Elliott told the Times, "We went to Arizona, West Virginia, Washington state, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. He was on the move the whole time. We went from being 10 steps behind him to being five steps to being one step."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio