Close encounter with a military poser
Friday afternoon I picked one of my boys up from school in my Army uniform. At his school, parents wait at the playground for their kids to come outside. I had just walked up to the playground when an older man sitting beside the playground got up and walked toward me.
The man was wearing sweatpants, an old, faded, sweatstained shirt with sleeves cut off, and a USMC baseball cap. The man walked awkwardly, as if suffering from old injuries. His face was unshaven, mouth filled with blackening teeth.
The man held his hand out and said, “I just wanted to thank you for your service in the Army.”
I had to stop and pulse check myself. I’ve had many people thank me for my service, which is always an honor. But I knew who this old man was. I had known for some time.
Two years ago I was visiting a friend in the neighborhood. Across the street, American and Marine Corps flags flew over a house’s front door. A cutout of a kneeling soldier was in the front yard. Vehicles with POW/MIA, Vietnam Vet and USMC stickers all over them were in the driveway. I asked about the neighbor and was told he had been awarded “a big medal” in Vietnam. I decided to walk across the street and knock on the man’s door.
When the man answered I told him I was a veteran and was curious about his service. The man immediately assumed what I took to be a “I’m so humble” stance and told me his story.
He was a Marine Vietnam vet. He had been a sniper. But before Vietnam he was on a secret mission in Russia. In Vietnam he was captured and put in a POW camp. He escaped, found an American unit, led them back to the camp and rescued 85 POWs. “I’m not bragging,” the man said. “But I’ve got a Medal of Honor, a Silver Star and five Purple Hearts.”
At this point, of course, I knew the man was lying. But I wasn’t certain how to respond. Was it possible this man actually was a Vietnam vet, had served honorably, and now was legitimately suffering from some type of mental issues? If I called him out as a liar, would I be doing the right thing?
I asked the man’s name again, “John Smith”, and made a mental note. Then we shook hands and I walked away. As soon as I got home I looked John on the internet.
Shockingly, he wasn’t in the database of Vietnam Medal of Honor winners. A search on his name didn’t turn up anything related to Vietnam. I went to our neighborhood police station and asked the officers if they had heard of him.
They knew exactly who John was. For years he’s been claiming to be a Vietnam War hero. The police have been called to his house many times, sometimes for serious incidents. He’s known as a drunk, liar and scammer. He owns a small business and advertises himself as a disabled Vietnam veteran. He’s told officers he’s got mental problems “from all the babies he killed in Vietnam”. The officers there considered him such a nuisance they kicked him out of the station.
I contacted the POWNetwork.org, which I knew outed military posers. I gave them all the information I had on John. They submitted an open records request to the National Personnel Records Center.
Not long afterward, they emailed me: “Record found. NO NAM.” John had served two years in the Marine Corps, 64-66. Never left the United States.
John’s service record and picture were put on the POWNetork’s “Hall of Shame” (which apparently no longer exists; however, I still have copies of the record and photo). I let the local officers know John was a complete liar, and spread the word around the neighborhood.
Not long after that, a small nearby town held a parade for a wounded Marine who had just been released from a military hospital. Flags, fire trucks and local patriots lined the main street. Motorcycles and VFW vests were everywhere.
The first vehicles in the parade came into view. And among them, a blue SUV with USMC, POW/MIA and Vietnam Veteran stickers all over it. Driven by John, our local fake Medal of Honor winner.
I actually chased the SUV for a few seconds before I thought, What am I going to do if I catch him? Drag a pathetic old man out of his SUV in the middle of the parade route? So I backed off, shook the wounded Marine’s hand when his jeep drove by, and went straight to the local police station.
The local police could only document it. I talked to the parade organizers and they said John had only presented himself as a former Marine, not as a Medal of Honor winner. As soon as I could I called the FBI. I was told they only pursue larger Stolen Valor cases where the liar is gaining a large benefit from the lie. They’d look into it, but criminal prosecution was unlikely.
Time passed. I kept my eyes open for John, but never saw him around. Until Friday.
So there I was, standing in a playground surrounded by parents and small children, when this old, pathetic, lying scumbag walks up to me with his hand out, thanking me for my service. Because I was in uniform, anything I said or did to John would directly reflect on the US Army. I took a breath and calmed myself before responding.
Biting back anger, I raised my hand in a “back off” gesture. “I’m not going to shake your hand. I know exactly who you are, John. I know you’ve been lying about being a Medal of Honor winner for years. You need to just stay away from me, because I really am a combat vet.”
John was, to say the least, surprised. He backed away, muttering “Thank you for your service.” I told him, “Just stay away from me.”
He sat down with his wife and kept his back to me. Later, when he was leaving, he gave me one glance, and quickly turned away when he saw me still staring at him.
Since the War on Terror started I’ve met more Special Forces Recon Ranger Sniper SEALs than have ever existed in the entire history of our military. One night a wrecker driver at an accident scene told me he was such a good shot in boot camp, he was pulled out of basic and put directly in SF. Some other guy one night told me he had been SF, wearing black uniforms on secret missions. I asked him which SF group he had been in and he gave me a dumbfounded look, then said, “Uh…all of them. Yeah, they moved me around to all of them.” I had a guy walk up to me in a restaurant and tell me he was SF in Iraq. Then he didn’t know what an ODA was. I had the misfortune of meeting a former SF “PTSD counselor” who was suffering horribly from all his wartime trauma. Turned out he had never served in combat. He altered his DD-214 to make it appear as if he was an Iraq and Afghanistan vet, a Silver Star winner who had been wounded overseas. The actual disorder he suffers from is known medically as “being a lying sack of crap”.
What the hell is wrong with these people? Why do they feel this need to make up stories about nonexistent wartime service, when honorable peacetime service is more than enough to be proud of? And why the hell do they have to spout their ridiculous crap to real soldiers who actually know some truth about war?
Now I’m asking myself if I did the right thing. I once loudly confronted another notorious poser when I ran across him working at a local store. So should I have blown up at this old man in front of all those parents and kids, and let them all know who he really was?
And what should I do about this guy now?
p.s. I didn’t post his picture and military record because his address can be found on the internet, which then lets everyone know what city and neighborhood I live in.
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Tags: military fakes, military posers, veteran writers