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Web site lies hurt councilman

On Aug. 25, a past Neil Colburn never had began to haunt him.

That morning, the operators of a Web site dedicated to American prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action in the Vietnam War sent an e-mail to Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman stating Colburn, a 13-year member of the council and the city's mayor pro-tem, had lied about his military record and had claimed he was a Navy SEAL.

Distributed to City Hall, the Island County Auditor's office, and to The South Whidbey Record, the e-mail has had Colburn and his attorney, Doug Kelly, scrambling for nearly a month to counter damage Colburn said was done to his reputation by untrue accusations. Colburn, who served four tours of duty in Vietnam aboard the USS Bridget between 1965 and 1971, according to a Navy service document, said last week the only thing the Schantags got right in the e-mail and in a posting to their Web site was his legal name, William E. Boyer. Colburn has used his current moniker since moving to Whidbey Island in the 1970s.

"I think these are a bunch of loonies," Colburn said Thursday.

In the e-mail, Chuck and Mary Schantag -- who operate the Web site P.O.W. Network out of Skidmore, Mo. -- alleged that Colburn had claimed to be a member of the elite Navy SEAL commando corps during the Vietnam War. They also stated Colburn had never served tours of duty in Vietnam and had prevented anyone from looking into his past by claiming his military records had burned in a fire.

None of it was true, Colburn said, but that did not make it easy to cope with the stress of having untrue statements about him on the Internet. Not only did the Schantags send out their accusations by e-mail, but they also posted them on their Web site, www.pownetwork.org. That posting was removed after Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman vouched for Colburn in a letter addressed to the Schantags.

Though the Schantags would not return media inquiries about their accusations, Chuck Schantag e-mailed an apology to Colburn. In it, Schantag says the accusations were brought to P.O.W. Network by complainants he refused to identify.

While Colburn said he accepts the apology as a sincere one, he said he is prepared to sue the Schantags to discover the names of the people who leveled the accusations against him. Both he and Furman said they believe the incident over Colburn's military record stem from bad blood during Colburn's 1995 run for the city council.

"There was a small element out there to discredit us both," Furman said. "I think eventually we'll find out who it is."

Colburn said the e-mail campaign against him was damaging to his family, which had been in the midst of a custody fight over a teenaged girl living with the family. He said he first thought the accusations made against him might have been originated by the girl's family, but has since found that fear to be unfounded.

Colburn said this week he wants it made clear that he has never claimed to be a SEAL or any kind of war hero. His last assignment in Vietnam, he said, was as a cook aboard ship.

Having lies about his past tied to his current political career, Colburn said, was especially upsetting.

"This whole thing was designed to discredit me," he said.

Colburn said he does not plan to sue for any punitive damages over the incident.

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