News / USA

Fraud Hunters Unmask Military Imposters

Most wearing uniforms on July 4th have served honorably, but not all

You can be pretty sure that these Marines are legitimate.
You can be pretty sure that these Marines are legitimate.

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Ted Landphair

If you were to attend a parade or musical celebration of the 235th anniversary of Americans’ declaration of independence today, you’d likely see lots of men and women in the uniforms of the United States military.



Almost all of them are serving their country honorably and well.  But a tiny percentage aren’t servicemen and women at all, or are wearing medals and other decorations that they did not earn. “Stolen valor,” some call such behavior.

Even prominent men and women have lied about their military service or decorations. And a good many of them have been exposed by a cadre of veterans who keep a look-out for imposters - particularly at holiday gatherings such as those on the 4th of July.

This is a medal for service in United Nations forces in the Korean War. It’s worn proudly by those who served, and perhaps disgracefully be a few who didn’t.
This is a medal for service in United Nations forces in the Korean War. It’s worn proudly by those who served, and perhaps disgracefully be a few who didn’t.

One of the most determined military fraud hunters is Larry Bailey of Mount Vernon, Virginia.  He is a retired Navy captain and SEAL. That’s the same elite Navy parachute and demolitions unit that swooped down and killed al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in May.  

Over several years, Bailey, who regretfully concludes that military fakery is rampant, has exposed a rogues’ gallery of military masqueraders that has included corporate executives and members of Congress.

Some fakers did serve their nation honorably but could not resist dressing up their records with claims of battles they never fought, medals they never won, or tortures they never endured.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis claimed to have served as a platoon leader in Vietnam. Turns out, he didn't.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis claimed to have served as a platoon leader in Vietnam. Turns out, he didn't.

For example, Bailey points to Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who admitted embellishing his resume by claiming to have served as a platoon leader in Vietnam. In truth, he spent the war at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, teaching history.  

And a few years ago, Los Angeles, California, Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg was removed from the bench after falsely claiming to be a decorated Vietnam War veteran who worked undercover in Laos for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Bailey says men often make up heroic war stories to impress women, to puff up their job credentials or because they think it will inspire youngsters such as Boy Scouts and military recruits. He says some people have lived their falsehoods so long that they could pass lie-detector tests about their stories.

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