Tom McKenny completely lost his Mississippi home during Hurricane Katrina. He had a beautiful small house on the edge of a bayou near the Mississippi Sound built on pilings almost 13 feet above normal sea level. However, the storm surge there during Katrina were about 18 feet and his home was washed completely off the pilings, broken up and drifted into many pieces over the nearby area. The last time I saw Tom, he and his daughter’s family were raking the grass around the foundation of his former home looking for anything they could salvage. Tom did at least have a chance to meet my new wife on that occasion.
I am aware of Tom’s controversial reputation among the Vietnam Veterans POW/MIA community. I flatly state that Tom was my lifeline during one of the toughest periods of my life. Tom supported me against a man whom Tom put his entire reputation on the line to defend for nearly ten years. It is my opinion that Tom is an honest and deeply religious man who wants to believe in the best side of people. Although Tom may still believe Robert’s stories about what happened in Vietnam, he ultimately severed all direct contact with Robert due to Tom’s strong moral convictions that what Robert did to me, and to my marriage with Marilou, was wrong.
Even though Cris and Valerie had moved on Cris’s military orders shortly after Marilou left, they kept their house next to Robert’s as rental property. When they left Cris was headed to his last duty assignment before retiring, and I knew that at one time they had planned on retiring in their Gautier house. However, after Cris retired they moved to Alabama and purchased a new house. I suspect that fallout from knowing Robert Garwood was a prime reason for their choice of retirement location. Their house was also flooded during Katrina, and when my wife and I moved the house was still vacant and unrepaired.
I often wonder what the relationship was between Robert and Valerie, and what part Valerie and Cris’s son had in keeping Robert from destroying their marriage the way Robert destroyed mine.
To this day, I still don’t know exactly what Robert said to Valerie about me. I still consider it my great good fortune that Beth was such an honest woman and tipped me off in time to contain Garwood’s attempted character assassination. Whatever stories Robert made up about me, they were obviously terrible enough that, had they gotten out into the general community, I would have been forced to move far away. I do believe forcing me to move away was part of Robert’s intention in making up those stories. I also believe he wanted to once again present himself as a selfless hero and give himself yet another chance to claim he was being unjustly harassed, this time by a deranged abusive husband.
During the period of time Marilou was riding around the U.S. in Robert’s RV, before our divorce, Tom had briefed writer and alleged journalist Monika Jensen-Stevenson on the sordid affair. During the short time Marilou was back in Gautier, before filing for divorce and going back to Seattle, she mentioned she had spoken by cell phone with Monika while riding around in the RV. Marilou also claimed that Monika had spoken with Robert several times during the RV trip.
Tom had told me that Monika was writing another book about Robert and himself at the time Marilou left. According to Tom, Monika’s next book would describe Robert as a misunderstood hero and victim of massive government cover-ups over POWs left behind in Vietnam. Even though Tom passed my contact information to Monika, with my full permission, she never made an attempt to contact me. Considering the level of controversy generated over her book “Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam,” to the point of being successfully sued over it, one would think she’d want all available facts about her writing subject. The book she was allegedly working on at the time does not seem to have been published, so maybe she did something right after all.
However, I remain completely unimpressed with her journalism abilities.
The last I heard, Robert and Marilou are still married. I don’t know what type of relationship they have, and I honestly don’t care. But I do continue to feel some sympathy for Marilou. I fully believe, even to this day, that Robert worked very hard to get Marilou into his bed and encouraged her to lie to me about their affair long after she would have on her own. While any affair takes “Two to Tango,” I put the blame for the affair 80% on Robert’s shoulders. I truly believe he coldly used Marilou’s personal insecurities and stresses over the problems in our married life to get her into his bed.
I still often think about what I might have done different to keep her away from Robert, but I honestly don’t know. Given that Robert was determined to get any woman he wanted into his bed, the only real defense would have been for Marilou to recognize what he was, decide she wouldn’t be part of his harem, and kept away from him the way our neighbor Beth did. I truly believe that when Marilou started the affair Robert only wanted free sex, and Marilou never planned to end our marriage for him. I believe Robert marked me as so gullible and naive that I would never notice him and Marilou carrying on. I also believe that Robert actually started putting moves on Marilou from their very first meeting, the day Robert first moved into our neighborhood, a mere two weeks after his beloved wife Cathi died.
I quote the great French film actor, director, screenwriter and playwright Sacha Guitry: “When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.” I think I did better than just extract that level of revenge.
Besides no new books being published about Robert Garwood, no movie about Robert Garwood ever rolled out of Oliver Stones’ film factory. Whether my push into publicizing Roberts’s actions with Marilou had anything to do with it, I don’t know. I’d like to think it did. I know I had an impact on terminating any chance Robert Garwood ever had to gain a new trial or even a pardon through the efforts of Tom McKenny. For this, I feel a large amount of satisfaction. From what I can tell, based on monitoring Vietnam Veteran Newsgroups and other information sources, “The ledgend of Robert Garwood” has now mostly faded away into obscurity.
Just one final observation about Robert Garwood’s claims of being imprisoned and brutally treated for long years at the hands of the Vietnamese:
One evening, during the time Robert was a welcomed dinner guest at my house and before I learned of his true past, Robert gave an interesting monologue after finishing a large meal and several shots of rum. This particular evening was the only time he ever drank with me. After his drinks, Robert started talking about the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese people. His tone of voice was different than during his previous monologues, more somber and with more emotion. He spoke about how the Vietnamese were merely defending themselves against what they perceived to be outside invaders and were attempting to defend their country, culture, and their way of life. He spoke about atrocities committed against the Vietnamese by first the French, and then our military. He finished his monologue with an impassioned statement that we, the U.S., never had any business going into Vietnam in the first place.
I distinctly remembered this particular evening’s monologue because it seemed so out of character for him, after the many times he’d regaled us with his roles in Special Forces and the Marines. And I’ve thought about that night’s monologue whenever I read the claims that Robert was held prisoner for many long years, brutally treated at the hands of the Vietnamese people.
There is a large Vietnam community located in the town of Biloxi, Mississippi. Many of the people living there were reportedly resettled by the US government as refugees after South Vietnam collapsed, and every Vietnamese who could fled to the US. From what I learned during the time Robert was a frequent dinner guest my house, and from what Tom knew through his own sources, Robert is fluent with the Vietnamese language and was very tight with this Vietnamese community.
That’s proof of nothing, but I can’t help thinking that if Robert was really held as a POW under brutal circumstances all those long years in Vietnam, he would not be so quick or willing to ingrate himself into any Vietnamese community.
I’m Just Saying…
I know there are still people who continue to believe Robert is living proof that our government left soldiers and airmen behind, alive, in the jungles of Vietnam. It is for those people that I wrote this very personal and still very painful story. Based upon my personal experiences with Robert Garwood, It is my belief that he did in fact fully earn and deserved his court martial convictions. I also state that if there are in fact U.S. soldiers and airmen still held against their will in Vietnam as unreleased POWs, the proof will not be found with Robert Garwood or by anything he says.
Update, October 18, 2007: I received some interesting feedback from one of my readers concerning Robert Garwood. This woman claims to have known Robert in Okinawa, before he was sent to Vietnam. Her account is linked here.
I will publish additional feedback as I receive it, with express permission of the author. If a reader does have a personal account of Robert Garwood, please contact me
ETCS (SS), USN, Ret