Fact Check

Marathon Station Refuses GIs Service

Were U.S. soldiers refused service by the owner of a Pontiac gas station?

Published Feb. 27, 2006


Claim:   A Marathon service station owner in Pontiac, Illinois, refused to do business with U.S. soldiers.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]


I have a good friend who used to ride the van with me to work. Her brother is a friend and is in the military over in Bagdad. I've always told her she's my hero and I wish I had a tiny bit of her nerve. Read what she did last night (below)...and I can honestly see her doing this. She doesn't take cr@p off anyone. Feel free to pass this on...maybe this guy's business will go under!

As some of you may know the Marathon gas station in front of what use to be Underdogs and across from the Pawn shop (in Pontiac) is owned by a Pakistani. I've heard some rumors the last 6 months or so that a couple of our soldiers have stopped in, dressed in fatigues, after drill and he would not allow them to purchase anything in the store. They were asked to leave and told their business is not wanted or needed. Apparently this happened again on Sunday. You don't know how much of what you hear is actually true so I stopped in last night on the way to the B & G club. I don't really know why, I'm not sure what I thought I was going to say or do but I had to check this guy out. Luckily he was working.

I took my water up to the counter and waited while he played with the tape roll on the machine. I had my wallet out so I could pay him when he was done.. Right there in my wallet was my standard military picture of my brother in front of the flag (most of you know he is serving outside Baghdad right now). He finished what he was working on and was extremely friendly to me as he rang up the water. I placed my wallet on the table and pointed to my brother and asked what he would do if he came in for a water (I couldn't help myself). As uncomfortable as it was with only the two of us in that small store he told me in what was a poor attempt of English that "I give no water, no nothing to him, he may leave", his attitude completely changed. I was taken back, I couldn't believe what just happened. I closed my wallet and left my water on the counter and told him that if he must leave then I must leave too. I could not believe it. I sat in my car and didn't know whether to laugh at him or cry.

I guess the reason I'm telling you this is so you can make a decision on whether or not to give him your business. I guess that is why it's America, he is able to come to this country, own a small business tax
free, and refuse business to anyone he wants. It is also our right to stop every person we know from EVER going there again and running his sorry a** out of town.

Origins:   The years since the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 and the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003 have brought us a panoply of (mostly false) rumors about business owners and employees in the U.S. who have supposedly openly celebrated terrorist attacks on America and/or refused to do business with U.S. servicemen. Most often the businesses targeted by such rumors are gas stations, convenience stores, or other small shops, since those types of businesses are frequently owned, operated, or staffed by immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, or by persons mistakenly assumed by Americans to be Mid-East immigrants). (See, for example, "The Hole in the Middle," "This Bud's Not for You," "Leatherneck Cold Shouldered," "The Shunned Serviceman" and "Shell Game.")


item quoted at the head of this page began circulating in February 2006 and fits into this same genre of rumor type (i.e., the shunning of U.S. servicemen by Arab/Muslim business owners) by claiming that the "Pakistani" owner of a service station and convenience mart in Pontiac, Illinois, recently refused to sell goods to U.S. servicemen, brusquely sending the soldiers away empty-handed, as well as openly proclaiming to a civilian customer (one whose money he would readily accept) that he would similarly decline to do business with her serviceman brother.

The account specifically identifies a Marathon gas station at 922 W. Custer Avenue in Pontiac, and as is typical of such accounts, it errs in its details and has proved to be unverifiable. The Marathon service station referred to has been owned since November 2003 by Satvinder Singh, who wasn't present on the day of the alleged incident, and who is neither a native of Pakistan nor a citizen of that country. (He's a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in India and has been a resident of the U.S. since 1989.)

Mr. Singh himself denies that any such incident took place:

Nothing in that e-mail is true. I respect everybody. I wouldn't refuse service to anyone.

I am so mad because this is my business. I don't want to lose any of my business. All people are welcome at my store. I don't know why this happened.

Mr. Singh's wife, Rupinder Kaur (also a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in India), elaborated for the Pontiac Daily Leader:

Kaur pointed out that neither she nor her husband is Muslim, and said they appreciate the service of members of the Armed Forces. "They go there, they don't know if they're going to come back," she said of members of the military serving in places like Iraq. "My blessings will go always for them. We are depending upon them. They're fighting for us. They're saving us, and why would we want to do such a thing like don't serve them." She said neither she nor her husband was involved in politics.

"All customers are welcome. We will never discriminate against anybody," Kaur said. "All the customers, to me, are angels ... We respect all of our customers."

The only persons they won't sell to, she added, are minors trying to illegally buy cigarettes or alcohol. "We card them, and we card them hard, because we don't want them to get into trouble."

Kaur said that she and her husband are just "normal people" who are trying to make a success of their business, Super Petroleum. "We invested in Pontiac knowing that Pontiac is a good community," she said, noting that the business employs two local persons, generates property and other taxes, and contributes to the city's economy. The station was one of two Pontiac businesses robbed on the same day in December, and one of the two American flags Singh put up was stolen.

Moreover, attempts by the Central Illinois Pantagraph to verify any element of the account have proved fruitless:

The Pantagraph has been unable to find anyone with a firsthand account of the incidents described in the e-mail, several versions of which have circulated widely throughout Central Illinois.

The woman whose name appears as the sender of the e-mail learned of the e-mail on Wednesday. When The Pantagraph contacted her Thursday evening, she declined to comment.

Members of the Pontiac National Guard have been unable to find any soldiers within their unit who have experienced such discrimination.

"To my knowledge, there hasn't been anyone in the store," National Guard public information officer Capt. Bud Roberts said. "It is not an issue. We don't dwell on rumors."

The Livingston County Veterans Assistance Commission also has been unable to confirm information in the e-mail.

Other evidence attests to the falsity of the claim:

Singh said he spends very little time in the store and didn't work Sunday, when the incident is said to have occurred.

"He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet," said Alec Durousseau, who works evenings at the station. "Everything in that e-mail is untrue. It's a complete lie."

Tory Zarwell, another employee, and Durousseau said they have never seen Singh express anti-American feelings. They both pointed out an American flag flies in front of the station.

Unfortunately, the result of the opprobrious e-mail — whether motivated by racism or some other form of spite — has been to cause undeserved harm to the reputation of the couple's business:

The matter of the e-mails was brought to the owners' attention Wednesday evening by the employee who had been getting phone calls, including a caller who asked if he would be welcome if he came to the station because he had "heard" that someone had been refused service. Someone brought a printout of the e-mail to the station to find out if it were true.

On Thursday, every customer was asking about the Internet allegations about refusal to sell to soldiers in uniform. [Kaur] and her husband told their two employees to tell everyone who asked that the allegations were not true.

Last updated:   27 February 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Faddoul, John.   "Internet E-Mail Charges False, Business Owners Say."

    The [Pontiac] Daily Leader.   24 February 2006.

    Walters, Karen.   "Station Owner Taken Aback by Rumor Spread in E-Mail."

    The [Bloomington-Normal] Pantagraph.   25 February 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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