| Ted Lane Sampley left Wilmington, N.C. and joined the U.S. Army in 1963 when he was 17. He
went through basic training, advanced infantry training and airborne school.
In June 1964, Sampley was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade on the island of Okinawa.
On May 5, 1965, he was deployed to Vietnam with the 173rd, where he served as a combat infantryman until April 1966. He participated in combat operations in the Iron Triangle, War Zone D, Ben Cat, the Ho Bo Woods and other areas of South Vietnam.
In April 1966, Sampley was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C.
After being chosen for training as a Green Beret (United States Army Special Forces), Sampley was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa.
In 1968, Sampley was one of a handful of American soldiers selected to attend the British Jungle Warfare School in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He was trained for eight weeks by British, Australian and New Zealand instructors in jungle warfare, including methods of visually tracking humans in the jungle. While in Malaysia, Sampley was required to wear a British uniform because the British at that time did not want to publicize that they were training U.S. soldiers to fight in Vietnam.
While in Okinawa, Sampley took advantage of his off-duty time to study ceramics and the many traditions, designs, techniques, and forms of handcrafted Okinawan pottery. Local craftsmen contributed a wealth of knowledge, eventually allowing Sampley to create his own distinctive works.
In 1969, he was reassigned to 5th Special Forces Group, Vietnam.
In Vietnam, Staff Sgt. Sampley served as company commander of a B-36 Mike Force, Civilian Irregular Defense Group Company (CIDG), assigned to operate along the Cambodian border. During that year of combat service, Sampley received four Bronze Stars, the Army Commendation Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
In 1970, Sampley was reassigned to the Third and later the Sixth Special Forces Groups at Fort Bragg, where he continued his military training.
Sampley's Army training included operations and intelligence, methods of prisoner of war interrogation, escape and evasion training, guerrilla warfare training, understanding, the Viet Cong infrastructure, and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachuting. He gained a working knowledge of both Arabic and Japanese.
From 1971 to 1973, Sampley worked during his off-duty time as a volunteer for Americans Who Care, a POW/MIA group in Fayetteville, N.C. The organization was lobbying for the safe return of all U.S. POWs held by the communists in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
After 10 years of service, Sampley left the Army with an honorable discharge in 1973.
Sampley returned to Wilmington where he worked for a television station and then a local weekly newspaper. He eventually succumbed to the lure of pottery, built his own kiln, and began teaching pottery. He soon established a production pottery business called The Potters Wheel, and began mass-producing good quality functional and decorative glazed stoneware.
He exhibited his version of a hand-turned clay piggy bank at the Atlanta Merchandising Market. Stuffed in small burlap bags, Sampley's Pig-in-a-Poke banks became an immediate hit. Within two years The Potters Wheel had produced and sold nearly 90,000 pieces of handcrafted pottery, all marked with either a PW (The Potters Wheel) or TLS, his own initials.
Sampley's whimsical Pig-in-a-Poke banks were featured beside some of North Carolina's most prominent potters in the 1980 April/May issue of Country Living Magazine. The magazine article was headlined "North Carolina's Country Potters."
In 1983, after he became aware that Hanoi had not released all living American POWs in 1973, Sampley became re-involved as a POW/MIA activist, demanding for the U.S. government to exert more pressure on Hanoi either to release the men or explain what happened to them.
Sampley has led many demonstrations in Washington, D.C., demanding that both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments account for American servicemen known to have been alive in captivity, but never released. The Washington, D.C.-based National Vietnam Veterans Coalition honored him for "Exemplary Service to Veterans" on May 6, 1985, in New York, at the Coalition's Leadership Breakfast.
On April 17, 1988, Mayor "Buddy" Ritch of Kinston, N.C., gave special recognition to Sampley for an "excellent job and continued interest in and service to the handicapped."
In October 1988, Sampley led a group of activists into communist Laos, where they handed out leaflets offering a reward for missing U.S. servicemen. Two members of the group were captured by the communists and held for 41 days. Sampley was detained by Thai authorities for illegally crossing back into Thailand from Laos.
During Kinston's All-American City celebration, Sampley was awarded a "Key to Kinston" as recognition for his support for Kinston.
Sampley is publisher/editor and a writer for the U.S. Veteran Dispatch. He was appointed chairman of the non-profit Last Firebase Veterans Archives Project in 1988. That group created one of the largest collections of privately held POW/MIA files.
From 1986 to 2003, the Last Firebase kept a non-stop, manned 24-hour vigil for POWs and MIAs in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Sampley testified in 1991 before the Senate Select Committee of POW/MIA Affairs.
The Lenoir County (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce gave Sampley special recognition in December 1991 for his help in the restoration of Kinston's historic downtown.
North Carolina's Raleigh News and Observer honored Sampley on Sept. 28, 1992 as its "Tar Heel of the Week and member of a very special group of North Carolinians who have contributed their time, skills and talents toward making North Carolina a truly great state and a wonderful place to live."
After conducting many hours of research, Sampley found compelling evidence proving that the remains buried in the tomb of the Vietnam War Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery belonged to Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie. It was evidence Sampley said the Pentagon had deliberately overlooked.
Sampley first made the Unknown Soldier's identity public in the July 1994 issue of the U.S. Veteran Dispatch.
Five years later (1999), the U.S. government, under pressure from CBS television, finally used a DNA sample and confirmed that the Vietnam War Unknown Soldier was indeed Lt. Blassie. A military honor guard returned Lt. Blassie's remains to his family in St. Louis, Mo., where he was buried again with full military honors in a national cemetery.
In February 1996, Sampley was nominated for The Kinston (N.C.) Free Press "Citizen of the Year" award. The Free Press cited Sampley for the "good work" he was doing in the community.
VietNow, a national veterans' organization, named Sampley Veteran of the Year. He was also named Citizen of the Year by the Wheat Swamp (N.C.) Ruritan Club of Lenoir County. He is a founding member of the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families and is one of their annual guest speakers.
Sampley is a co-founder of Kinston's annual Salute to Veterans celebration. He recently led two major community service programs in Kinston: The building of a 158-foot replica of Kinston's Civil War ironclad CSS Neuse, and the National Walk of Honor for Veterans.
Sampley is vice president of Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Washington, D.C. He is one of the original founders of the 18-year-old veteran's organization. Last year, nearly a half million veterans and Rolling Thunder supporters attended the annual rally in the nation's capital.
Rolling Thunder has developed into Washington's largest annual Special Event.
Sampley continues his pottery, focusing primarily on creating face jugs.
He lives in Kinston, N.C.