Capt. Larry Bailey USN (SEAL) Ret.
Larry Bailey retired from the U.S. Navy in 1990 after a 27-year career as a SEAL officer. His career included duty in the United States and in Panama, Bolivia, Scotland, Colombia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He is a graduate of Armed Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army's Foreign Area Officer School. He holds an undergraduate degree in History from Stephen F. Austin State College in Texas and a master's degree in Education from East Carolina University. Captain Bailey's most significant military assignment was as Commanding Officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center, where all Navy SEALS undergo basic and advanced training. Mr. Bailey is currently a free-lance consultant and writer on military affairs who has been published numerous times in the national press. He is also heading up the Kerry Lied Rally, an effort to put thousands of people in front of the U.S. Capitol on September 12, 2004 for an event intended to "tell the truth about Vietnam veterans, and to counter the lies John Kerry told about them."
Larry Bailey, Chuck and Mary Schantag, Steve Waterman and others are on a nationwide mission to expose those who exaggerate or falsely claim military service.
By Dan Fesperman
Originally published July 5, 2001
Times are tough for fake soldiers.
Latest casualty: Distinguished historian Joseph J. Ellis, exposed as a phony Vietnam veteran, besmirching an otherwise brilliant career as an author and professor.
Other notables among the recently fallen: a Pennsylvania schools superintendent who claimed to have been a decorated Navy SEAL; a retired police chief in Ohio who told stories of Green Beret heroism and brutal captivity as a prisoner of the Viet Cong; a leader of Wal-Mart's executive security detail who claimed to have been not only a SEAL but also a master killer, supposedly dispatching one of his 16 victims with a rolled-up newspaper; a major league baseball manager who told his players hair-raising tales of Marine missions in Vietnam.
Impostors, one and all.
Then there's the Baltimore construction worker, less celebrated but just as bold in his claims, having told a string of girlfriends during the past few years that he's a SEAL - a member of the elite corps of Navy commandos trained for sea, air and land operations - and a naval intelligence operative. Wearing a wide variety of uniforms and medals, he boasts of heroic exploits and three combat wounds while finagling loans and other favors from one unwitting admirer after another.
Government records show that he, too, is an impostor.
So who keeps shooting down these non-warriors, exposing their lies and exaggerations?
In an increasing number of cases - thousands, in fact - it is people such as Larry Bailey, Steve Waterman, Chuck and Mary Schantag, and a dozen or so others running a linked network of databases and Internet "gotcha" sites. Together these dogged folks, many of them retired soldiers, keep tabs on take POWs, fake Medal-of-Honor winners, fake SEALs, fake Green Berets and just about any other brand of military pretender you could imagine.
"It's not so much the guys in a bar saying, 'Yeah, I was a SEAL,' that we're after," explains Waterman, a Navy veteran from South Thomaston, Maine, who wrote the book, "Just A Sailor."
It's the ones who use their tales to advance their careers and their image that anger him most, he says, duping bosses, girlfriends, the news media and sometimes even the Veterans Administration, collecting benefit payments and free medical service.
This driven core of debunkers is responding to what Chuck and Mary Schantag's site at pownetwork.org calls "a nationwide epidemic."
"Every time we expose a new one, it seems like we get reports of two or three more," says Mary Schantag, of Skidmore, Mo. She and her husband have turned up 668 fake POWs since they checked out the first claim in 1998.
"It just keeps growing and growing and growing," she says, so much that the fake warriors sometimes outnumber the real ones.
Retired Navy Captain Larry Bailey, an ex-SEAL from Mount Vernon, Va., who helps run a database for the Web site authentiseals.org, says about 7,000 phony SEALs have been identified during the past six years. In reality, roughly 10,000 people have completed either SEAL training or, prior to the founding of the SEALs in 1962, the Navy's "frogman" training, which began during World War II. As of May, there were 2,220 active duty SEALs.
"About 19 of every 20 people we get inquiries about are fake," says Bailey, whose site lists 622 impostors in alphabetical order under the heading, Meet some of the most despicable people on Earth."
"I'm a bleeding heart Robin Hood sort of guy, and I just hate when people lie about these things," he says. "And a lot of these people are taking advantage of somebody."
The reasons for their fury are often more emotional, too.
"You read about a guy who dies, someone who was either poisoned by Agent Orange or was an alcoholic," Waterman says, genuine veterans who never got over their wounds or their nightmares of combat. "And then this other guy's out there in a fake uniform parading in front of The [Vietnam Memorial] Wall, and you just want to rip his lungs out."
Or, as Mary Schantag puts it, "They'll steal the stories [of heroism], but they're not stealing the nightmares, or stealing the pain."
So, if you falsely promote yourself as some sort of war hero long enough, one of these people may eventually track you down. Once they do, they'll haunt you forever, and in the age of e-mail and cyberspace they've achieved a deadly efficiency in spreading the word.
In Pennsylvania, Panther Valley district schools superintendent Raymond Aucker lost his job when he was exposed as an impostor who'd been boasting about his exploits as a SEAL, and the sleuths made sure his subsequent employers found out as well.
A federal judge sentenced Aucker last October to two years probation and 200 hours of community service at a veterans hospital in Iowa for falsifying his military records.
"It is a consuming thing," says Waterman, 55, who works in the industrial security business and does "wannabe" sleuthing in his spare time. "It's sort of like becoming an anti-war demonstrator, except it's on the other side of the spectrum. It gets to be personal."
Army Airborne veteran Michael Anderson even participates in "busting phonies" from his home in the Philippines, saying by e-mail that he has "worked on roughly 40 cases and am currently working on 3 concurrently ... I spend 20 to 30 hours a month working cases and researching material." He spent nine months on one case alone, sending more than 350 e-mails in the process.
The payoff comes in moments such as the one in August 1999, when Bailey and two other ex-SEALs accompanied a BBC camera crew to the front door of Wayne Higley, a Stoneham, Mass., man who, among other boasts, had said he was a SEAL who'd won a Navy Cross and three Purple Hearts, sometimes showing off his "combat scars." His act had been convincing enough to make him a featured speaker at a 1994 ceremony at the Women's Vietnam Memorial in Washington, which landed him an interview on "Good Morning America."
So, the SEALs showed up at his apartment to demand some answers. With the BBC filming and Waterman snapping photos, Higley stood on his doorstep while one of his indignant visitors proclaimed, "Wayne, we are your worst nightmare come true, three real SEALs and a TV crew."
Bailey has been busy lately tracking down details of a Baltimore case, involving 37-year-old construction worker Timothy Warren Bradford, who he says claims to have won several medals and to have been wounded in several wars while fighting as a SEAL. He has also said he is a Naval Intelligence operative, and a graduate of the U.S, Naval Academy. All three claims are false.
But they've helped gain favors and affection from a string of women, Bailey says. "He is truly a predator," Bailey says. "He beds these women, he takes their money. He gives them all kinds of problems."
The Sun spoke to nine people, including several former girlfriends, who've listened to Bradford's boasts and seen his various uniforms and medals. Each asked that their names not be used, saying they feared his temper.
According to the military records section of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Bradford's only actual time in the armed forces was a seven-and-a-half month hitch in the Marine Corps when he was 18. He was discharged in December 1982 - nearly 19 years ago - before completing infantry training school at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The center can't release the nature of his discharge without his permission.
Bradford did not respond to messages left for him. George M. Oswinkle, a Baltimore attorney who has represented Bradford in the past, said he also could not reach Bradford.
Federal law prohibits the unauthorized wearing of military uniforms or medals, though the statutes are seldom enforced. The greatest penalty for most impostors is public humiliation. That was the case with the most recent notable example, historian Joseph J. Ellis, who in the past few years had won not only a Pulitzer Prize but a National Book Award for books on Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.
Ellis had been telling "war stories" of his Vietnam experiences to his students at Mount Holyoke College for several years, as well as to interviewers. It turned out he'd never served there, and Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson exposed his deception after the paper received a tip. Robinson won't say who the tipster was.
Why do people fabricate such heroics, especially those who are already famous in their own right? Bailey had a long chat with a clinical psychologist about that very question.
Some impostors, he was told, simply have antisocial personality disorders. They're the ones who see lying about military heroics as the best way to exploit others for personal gain. Others are simply trying to make up for low self-esteem by burnishing their image, figuring they won't get caught.
"Basically what it amounts to," Bailey says, "is a guy who for some reason has a feeling of inadequacy."
Ellis, the most recent and perhaps most stunning example, has offered an apology but no public explanation. But he may have inadvertently offered a clue to his motives during an recent online interview conducted before the controversy emerged.
When asked about what Thomas Jefferson did during the American Revolution, Ellis said he didn't serve in the army, even though he was young enough. That later became a source of embarrassment for Jefferson, Ellis added, saying, "When he runs for office later on, they keep calling this moment back to him that he didn't serve. It would be like now if somebody missed service in Vietnam, and basically being told, 'Where were you when it was time to be counted?' "
Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun
|OMAHA WORLD HERALD
June 19, 2001
Cold Water Thrown on Nebraskan's SEAL Claims
BY C. DAVID KOTOK
Timothy R. Webster put a target on his chest by wearing the Trident symbol of the elite Navy SEALs when he posed with Sen. Ben Nelson during a Purple Heart ceremony in Columbus, Neb.
Now all of the military claims by Webster, 26, have been called into question.
To Nelson, the freshman Democratic senator, and Webster's employers at Behlen Manufacturing, everything seemed to be in order. Webster had a letter from the secretary of the Navy awarding him a Purple Heart for being wounded in the Persian Gulf.
The cake, punch and newspaper clipping might have been pleasant memories if Webster had not made the claim of being a Navy SEAL. Nelson has called for an investigation into the matter and has been told that the Navy has no record of Webster being awarded the Purple Heart, which is given to those injured in combat.
"He did not complete training and he is not a Navy SEAL," said Patricia O'Connor, the deputy public-affairs officer for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego.
That is not what Webster told a reporter for the Columbus Telegram, and that is not the information in the letter he presented to Nelson to document his claim to the Purple Heart.
Webster could not be reached Monday for comment.
In the letter on Navy letterhead dated July 29, 1999, Webster was said to have received the award as a member of SEAL Team 3 participating in the Restore Hope and Southern Watch operations enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions against Iraq. The wound was reported to have occurred on March 10, 1994.
But as the content of the letter and his account came under question, Webster went to his employer late last week and Monday to insist that he has a dispute with the Pentagon, said Phil Raimondo, Behlen's president.
On its face, the letter looked legitimate, said David DiMartino, Nelson's director of communications. Nelson and other members of Congress often participate in ceremonial presentations of medals to veterans, DiMartino said.
Normal procedures were followed, and the paperwork appeared to be in order. Nelson participated in the ceremony before Webster's co-workers on April 18.
Former and current SEALs, however, maintain a careful watch for those who falsely claim to have made it through the difficult training to wear the Trident insignia of the Navy's special-forces unit. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey is the state's best known former SEAL.
O'Connor said she does not know whether Webster ever entered the basic underwater demolition training or other training required before one is accepted into a SEAL team. But there is no doubt that he never completed SEAL training, she said.
"It unfortunately seems a lot of folks out there lay claim to being a SEAL," O'Connor said.
Just as SEALs are known for finding and eliminating the enemy, former SEALs search out those making false claims.
Nelson's office was alerted to the Webster situation by former Capt. Larry Bailey, an active member Cyber SEALs, an Internet site - www. authentiseals.org - dedicated to "upholding the honor and integrity of the US Navy SEALs."
The group maintains a list of "phony SEALs." An inquiry on Webster brought a response by Doc Relf of Phonybuster Team that the Nebraskan had "blipped on our screen several times in recent weeks."
On the Web site, the group describes itself as existing "to expose all the SEAL phonies for what they are, to let the world know who they are, where they live and how you may contact them to let them know what you think of the mockery they make of this great country and the men and women who have vowed to lay down their lives to protect it."
The group even has a poem dedicated to those who make false claims to being a SEAL. One of the tamer verses reads:
"Ranger tabs and all that stuff/Talk real big, and think they're tough/Scum who brag so all can see/Ain't no man, just a Wannabee."
Distributed through the P.O.W. NETWORK in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
"NO GUTS, NO GLORY"
Unmasking Navy SEAL Imposters
\"The liars who claim to be SEALs do so at their own risk, thanks to the efforts of the AuthentiSEAL group, and Steve Robinson. No Guts, No Glory... a fascinating account of and commentary on the actions of parasites who claim to be what they never could be. No Guts, No Glory should be on the reading list of every patriotic American."
- Book Review for SOLDIER OF FORTUNE magazine by Captain Larry Bailey USN (ret), US Navy SEAL (27 years) and Former Commanding Officer of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training - Coronado, California. (Vietnam War veteran)
of a Bust
Out Fake SEAL at Wal-Mart
February 19, 2001
Arkansas Business Journal
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. thought it had a former U.S. Navy SEAL helping manage security for its top executives and members of the world’s wealthiest family. Instead, it had a shark.
George Hardy, an assistant director of the company’s executive security detail (Wal-Mart’s equivalent of the Secret Service), was recently exposed as a phony SEAL after a tip from a co-worker prompted an inquiry by an independent group called Phony Seal Busters. The group is composed of retired Navy personnel, mostly Vietnam War veterans, interested in protecting the honor of fallen comrades.
Hardy, who doesn’t have a concealed handgun permit on file with the state of Arkansas, was reached twice by phone but had no comment.
His duties included planning and executing protection measures for company officers and members of the Walton family. So how could a fake penetrate the Waltons’ trusted inner circle?
Security industry experts say companies and celebrities around the globe face similar situations all the time. Ronald H. Relf, a former SEAL and 1996 retiree from the Denver Police Department, is director of international operations for the security firm Risk Mitigation Group in Pittsburgh.
Relf, whose clients have included Imelda Marcos, other international celebrities and corporate officers, said that often, dignitaries are “good folks” and are simply too trusting.
“When a client realizes they’ve given a liar the responsibility of protecting their lives, they feel violated,” Relf said. “A bodyguard’s integrity must be above reproach.”
Relf said serving on a SEAL team is not tantamount to doing quality security work. Nor is every former SEAL automatically qualified to be a bodyguard. But, he said, through movies such as “Under Siege,” Hollywood has romanticized the Navy’s most elite fighting force to the point that many high-profile clients believe hiring a former SEAL guarantees their safety.
The problem is that there aren’t that many former SEALs to go around.
Todd H. Willebrand, assistant public affairs officer at the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, said that of the 1,500 credential inquiries the base receives annually, only about 10 percent of the subjects of the inquiries are really SEALs.
“If you’re hiring a guy for corporate security, always check him out,” Willebrand said.
Hardy, who actually did serve in the Navy, was hired by Wal-Mart’s loss prevention division in May 1992 and climbed the corporate ladder to executive security. When he was hired, Hardy didn’t list having been a SEAL on his resume. But co-workers confirmed that throughout his career, Hardy boasted about his SEAL service. Then last month in Kansas City, Mo., time ran out on Hardy’s credibility.
In front of more than 2,000 Wal-Mart employees, Hardy was presented with a “Hero Watch” wristwatch service award by Wal-Mart’s director of loss prevention, Dave Gorman. Hardy was introduced as “a longtime Navy SEAL.”
One high-level Wal-Mart employee, already suspicious of Hardy’s “war stories,” saw a video of the award presentation. The employee began checking into the bodyguard’s past out of concern for the Walton family. The employee requested anonymity, fearing termination if “outing” Hardy embarrassed the world’s largest retailer.
Among Hardy’s alleged boasts is that he killed 16 men when he was a SEAL, including killing one “with a rolled-up newspaper.”
On Feb. 7, Janet L. Murray, Force Judge Advocate at SpecWar Command, answered a Freedom of Information Act request from the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. She said Hardy was a fake.
Jay Allen, Wal-Mart’s vice president of corporate affairs, said further action concerning Hardy, including his employment status, would be confidential. But Allen did say that Hardy had misrepresented himself to the company.
“Whether or not George was a Navy SEAL was never a consideration in hiring him,” Allen said. “At the same time, we have a great respect for the reputation and the work of the Navy SEALs, and we appreciate and completely understand why they would be deeply concerned about someone misrepresenting themselves like this.”
Former Navy underwater photographer Steve Waterman of South Thomaston, Maine, and retired SEAL Capt. Larry Bailey of Alexandria, Va., lead the Phony SEAL Busters. The Medal of Honor and Prisoners of War societies have similar watchdog groups that expose phonies.
Waterman said the group had outed thousands of phonies including customs agents, political candidates, Hollywood stuntmen, bodyguards, police, and agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We do it for the same reason people march in Fourth of July parades,” said Waterman, author of the book “Just A Sailor.”
“The SEALs are about integrity and honor, and people who jump on their bandwagon tread on the ground that SEAL blood has been spilled on. ... And what will the headlines read the first time a fake’s in a situation he can’t handle? ‘Navy Seal couldn’t stop attack.’”
The Phony SEAL Busters are investigating as many as 40 alleged SEALs in prominent security positions. The group has access to an extensive, updated database that includes all former team members.
PAUL PIONEER PRESS
A FROG OUT OF WATER? // VENTURA CRITIC SAYS GOVERNOR'S DEFENDERS STILL ALL WET
Tuesday, January 18, 2000
Bill Salisbury, Guest Columnist
Pioneer Press reporter Jim Ragsdale's Dec. 15 article, "Ventura was a true SEAL, say defenders," finally caught up with me in San Diego. I see I've been burned by a little St. Paul home cookin'.
Ragsdale's article fairly represents my position that Gov. Jesse Ventura deceives the public and insults the memory of real SEALS when he claims to have been a member of that elite U.S. Navy group.
However, apart from my quotes, Ragsdale chooses to let his readers hear only from three of Ventura's defenders - two of whom are not even SEALS. He does not quote from the SEALS in my article who also castigate Ventura for his deception. Consequently, the article unfairly makes me appear as a lone wolf howling in the Minnesota wilderness.
Ventura's defenders cited by Ragsdale include a writer who makes his living retelling often self-serving stories he's been told by SEALS and frogmen and a public-affairs weenie at the Navy's Special Warfare Command who gives not an official but a "personal" opinion that I'm splitting hairs.
The Navy p.r. man also makes the extraordinary claim that "a SEAL doesn't care if another SEAL hasn't been in combat." If that's so, then why all the medals SEALS and other military people wear to distinguish those who have been in combat from those who have not?
As a 16-year veteran of SEAL service that included tours as officer-in-charge of a SEAL Team 1 detachment in Vietnam, executive officer of SEAL Team 2 and commanding officer of UDT 11 (now SEAL Team 5, but I never say I commanded SEAL Team 5), I assure you SEALS care a great deal about who did and who did not see combat.
Finally, Ragsdale quotes Larry Bailey as calling me a "liar and hoaxter." Bailey's nose is out of joint because I condemn him as a sycophant who covers for Ventura. I also expose the deception foisted on the public in a TV biography of Ventura during which Bailey is inaccurately identified as Ventura's former commanding officer. Bailey never commanded an Underwater Demolition or SEAL Team.
The men Ragsdale chose not to quote who appear in my article include Dick Ray (Silver Star, Purple Heart); Ed Gill (Silver Star, Purple Heart); "Jake" (Silver Star, Purple Heart); Artie Ruiz (Bronze Star, Purple Heart). I also told Ragsdale that most of my information about Ventura as a frogman came from one of his commanding officers. (I declined to name the CO - not because he spoke on condition of anonymity, but because I wanted to spare him incessant demands for interviews.)
The CO gave me the UDT 12 cruise book, which was the source of photos that illustrate my article. The cruise book, which chronicles what UDT 12 did during its deployment, mentions Ventura (Jim Janos) only once: It notes Janos played basketball in the Philippines on the UDT 12 team. That’s it; nothing at all about combat action.
Ventura's former CO - who also was Bailey's boss - said Ventura had never been a SEAL and was wrong to claim otherwise.
After my article appeared, I was contacted by many, many old Frogs and SEALS who congratulated me on the expose. Chief among these was Ventura's friend and BUD/S classmate, Stan Antrim. (Antrim, unlike Ventura, went from BUD/S to SEALs and had no trouble making a combat deployment.)
Are the men I name above who join me in condemning Jesse "the Great Pretender" also liars and hoaxters, Larry?
Ragsdale wrote that I was taking most of the "pummeling" over the issue of whether Ventura had been a SEAL during the war. Add up the numbers and qualifications of those I identify as my supporters and compare them with the three people Ragsdale features. Who is being pummeled most by whom, Jim?
Bill Salisbury (no relation to the Pioneer Press reporter of the same name) is a writer, lawyer and former SEAL from the San Diego area. His article contesting Ventura's claims to SEALhood was published in the Dec. 2, 1999, San Diego Reader.
PHONY VETERANS http://vikingphoenix.com/military/veterans/phonyvet.htm
HUNTING THE PHONIES http://www.specialoperations.com/Phonies/
"Phil Haberman claims he fought with special forces in Iraq, but he's about as real as Rambo" http://www.operationwoundedsoldiers.org/GI-Jerk-2.htm
From: Andi Wolos & Bob Necci
Re: Pretenders & Wannabes
Date: August 10, 2001
a Mission to Unmask Pretenders to Military Glory
By PAM BELLUCK The New York Times
A growing number of fraud hunters, many of them veterans motivated by outrage, are seeking to combat an apparent surge in wartime fabrication.
Last April, in a dignified ceremony meant to honor a war hero, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska pinned a Purple Heart on Timothy R. Webster, who stood humbly wearing a large eagle insignia, the kind worn only by members of the Navy's elite Sea-Air-Land units, the Seals.
Mr. Webster, 26, of Columbus, Neb., had told Senator Nelson's office that he had been wounded in the Persian Gulf in 1994, and he had presented a letter on Navy stationery saying he won a Purple Heart.
But Mr. Webster was not counting on the likes of Larry Bailey.
Captain Bailey, a former Seal commander, got wind of Mr. Webster after his picture appeared in the Columbus newspaper. Captain Bailey checked a database he maintains of members of the Seals, found no Timothy Webster and alerted Senator Nelson's office, which asked the Navy to investigate.
This week, the Navy gave the senator its verdict: Mr. Webster "did not receive Seal training, he was not wounded in combat and is not a recipient of the Purple Heart Medal."
Senator Nelson's office said Mr. Webster was a radio operator in the Gulf. When reached by phone, Mr. Webster said he would not comment until he received records he had requested from the Navy.
Captain Larry Bailey, 62, of Mount Vernon, Va., is part of a growing network of people who have made it their business to sniff out those who lie about their military service.
The ranks of fraud hunters have grown in response to what appears to be a surge of wartime fabrication, especially involving the Vietnam War. The most recent notable example was Joseph J. Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who said he had been a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, when he had actually spent the war teaching military history at West Point. But there have been hundreds of others.
"We see it everywhere," said Tom Corey, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who said the group discovered this year that several members had falsely claimed in the organization's membership directory that they had been prisoners of war. "A lot of times they say they're Navy Seals or special forces or POW's, and a lot of them never left stateside."
Most fraud hunters are veterans motivated by outrage. Operating mostly through Web sites and on their own dime, they scrutinize claims in small-town newspaper articles and in membership rosters of veterans groups.
They also field an increasing number of calls and e-mail messages from people doubtful about the wartime résumé of a co-worker or a daughter's fiancé.
"It's an epidemic," said Mary Schantag, who with her husband, Chuck, exposes impostors from their farmhouse in Skidmore, Mo.
Last year, the Schantags say, they logged 7,000 queries about military claims, up from 22 in 1998.
"There's a very active hunt 'em down and hang 'em up kind of thing," said B. G. Burkett, a Dallas stockbroker who helped catalyze the movement to unmask pretenders with his 1998 book, "Stolen Valor."
The fraud hunters are sometimes accused of being overzealous, determined not only to expose fakers but also to get them fired or ruin their lives. Critics cite the case of Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, chief of naval operations, who killed himself in 1996 after revelations that he wore Vietnam decorations he had not earned.
The debunkers are partly the offspring of the Internet, which makes it easy to check claims against lists of Medal of Honor winners, prisoners of war and other elite veterans.
But they are also responding to a growing eagerness of people to associate themselves with Vietnam, whether they were there or not. The war's image has undergone an overhaul as time has soothed society's bitterness, as movies and television have depicted Vietnam veterans as sympathetic victims or admirable warriors, and as politicians and business leaders with solid Vietnam records have become models of success and dignity.
Mr. Burkett, who is known as Jug and has an admittedly unremarkable Vietnam record as an ordnance officer, said he had helped expose the fictitious military stories of about 1,800 people, including Wes Cooley, a former Republican congressman from Oregon, who was forced out of office after claiming falsely that he had served with the Army Special Forces in the Korean War.
Captain Bailey, who commanded the Seal training center, said counterfeit solders often had little trouble passing for the real thing.
"Our society is so mobile and so reluctant to check out anybody's bona fides, that we just accept it," said Captain Bailey, who said more than 7,000 Seal pretenders had been uncovered, with about 650 posted on a Wall of Shame at cyberseals.org.
Embellishers have included Tim Johnson, the Toronto Blue Jays manager, who was fired after his stories of search-and-destroy missions in Vietnam collided with the reality that he never saw combat. Darrow Tully, former publisher of The Arizona Republic and a friend of Senator John McCain's, the former prisoner of war, admitted that he lied about flying jet fighters in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Then there were the two top officials of a Vietnam War Museum in San Antonio who falsely claimed they had served in Vietnam. And the eight men in medal-bedecked camouflage who a few years ago visited the Vietnam Memorial on Veterans Day and Memorial Day and swapped fake stories of being in the Seals.
"Half of them had eyesight so bad their glasses made them look like a frog looking up through a block of ice," said Steve Waterman, a Maine lobsterman and Navy veteran, who helped expose them. "I don't even know if those within the group knew the others were all phonies."
Fraud hunters are most incensed by people who publicize fictitious exploits in the media or use them to get elected, promoted or wangle undeserved veterans' benefits.
Donald R. Nicholson, a retired police chief of Amelia, Ohio, said the prospect of additional benefits prompted him to claim he had been a prisoner of war, even buying fake medals and military papers and persuading the Army to award him the Distinguished Service Cross.
Others seek to be heroes, giving inspiring speeches at schools or becoming respected members of veterans groups.
William T. Whitely, a University of Oklahoma professor who founded an organization to prepare students for Navy Seal training, admitted in March that he had been lying for a decade by claiming he had been a Seal member and the recipient of Silver and Bronze Stars. Mr. Whitely, caught after a real Seal veteran reported him, said he had told himself his fictional story was inspiring to students.
"I never claimed being a Seal in the beginning, Mr. Whitely said, "It just kind of happened."
Some play on the image of the troubled and traumatized veteran, even using it to win sympathy from a judge or jury. Joseph Yandle, who was convicted of killing a Boston liquor store owner, had his life sentence commuted in 1995 after convincing the governor, the state pardon board and national media that he had harrowing combat experiences as a decorated marine in Vietnam. Three years after Mr. Yandle was released, Mr. Burkett proved he had only been a clerk in Okinawa, and Mr. Yandle was put back in prison.
There is debate about how many people try to use fake claims to take advantage of government programs and veterans' groups. Bob Epley, associate deputy under secretary for policy and program management at the Department of Veterans Affairs (news - web sites), said the department's screening system worked well.
"We don't think that this is a problem of magnitude," Mr. Epley said.
But a criminal investigator for the department, speaking on condition of anonymity, said military masquerading was "probably extensive."
And Mr. Corey said embellishers "go through chapters of V.F.W. or V.V.A. or some other organization, and you usually don't find out until they try to rise within the organization or if they're running for office."
Fraud hunters say they can verify claims of the highest military honors or elite service quickly because those groups are relatively small. Less extraordinary claims take longer, often months, as debunkers wait for a claimant's file to be sent by the military records center.
When they believe they have proof of a pretender, they post the name on line and sometimes confront the person with phone calls or scathing e- mail messages. Some people apologize; others stick by their claims.
"The only thing we have in our corner is humiliation," said Ms. Schantag, who recently discovered that a man who claimed to be a prisoner of war and gave a keynote address at a Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall exhibit was apparently a prisoner only of his own fantasies.
Some fraud hunters offer tips on spotting a pretender. Beware, they say, of people who boast of grisly combat or say they are not on official rosters because their duties were top secret. And watch out for people who know too many details.
"I'm convinced some of them could pass a polygraph test," Mr. Burkett said. "They often know more about the battle, they study it and work at it much harder than the guy who was there. Because the guy who was there only remembers six feet on either side."
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Apologize, Senator Kerry!
Kerry stole the vets’ honor, and they’re coming to get it back.
September 08, 2004, 8:45 a.m.
by Jed Babbin NRO Contributor
Thirty years later, it still makes their blood boil. When, in April 1971, John Kerry testified to a Senate committee that "...war crimes committed in Southeast Asia [were] not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command," he said that the average American soldier who fought in Vietnam was a war criminal. Kerry's statement was false, a blood libel that hangs in the air to this day. If John Kerry had apologized, maybe he'd never have had to deal with the little group that calls itself "Vietnam Veterans for Truth."
A Martian observer at the Democratic Convention could have concluded that we won the Vietnam War, and did so because of John Kerry's bravery. He wouldn't know that there are really three John Kerrys: presidential candidate Lt. (j.g.) Kerry, radical anti-war protester Kerry, and Senator Kerry. If — as many now believe — Kerry lied about his war record, that's bad news for candidate Lt. Kerry. But if Lt. Kerry lied, he was lying about himself. For the common soldiers of the Vietnam War, anti-war radical Kerry lied about them in his Senate testimony. For that, they will neither forgive him nor sit idly while he pursues the presidency. And Candidate Kerry is about to have a very bad day: A whole bunch of those common soldiers Kerry purported to speak for on that April 1971 day are coming to Washington on September 12. They will rally under a banner that says, "Kerry lied while good men died."
That Sunday afternoon, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of Vietnam-era veterans will gather near the Capitol building to condemn Kerry for his 1971 libel, and for repeating those lies again and again in his political career. Members of Vietnam Veterans for Truth — and other Vietnam vets — will come by plane, by car, and by bus from New England and Florida, from the Midwest and all over.
When I spoke to organizer Larry Bailey, he said that about 5,000 men were expected at the rally. More than 500 have contributed to Vietnam Veterans for Truth in amounts as little as $2 and as much as $1000. Money was coming in, but the story needed to get out. As you'd expect, the Vietnam Veterans for Truth aren't getting any coverage in the papers or the network news. They need help spreading the word.
This rally may be bigger than its organizers anticipate. Because what they're protesting is not some vague moral principle: It's not, in the words of Vito Corleone, "only business." It's personal to men like Tony Snesko, Larry Bailey, Mike Bradley, Denny Baum, and Pete Webster. They were the men serving on the Swift boats, in the infantry. They were the ones who risked their lives, shot and were shot at, and were often wounded. They were the ones who saw their friends killed. What resonates so loudly in their minds is likely to reach many of the other Vietnam vets who don't remember Lt. (j.g.) John Kerry, and don't think much of Senator John Kerry — but who all remember John Kerry, leader of the radical Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
When Kerry accused Americans of raping, cutting off ears, heads, and limbs, and razing villages in the manner of Genghis Khan, he wasn't talking about some random "other": He was talking about these men. They and their fellow Vietnam veterans were — and are — innocent of the atrocities of which Kerry accused them. They can't forgive Kerry for what he said, or forget what they suffered because of it. They took Kerry's accusation personally. It would have been impossible for them to do otherwise. In Larry Bailey's words, "I never told a lie about John Kerry. He never told the truth about me."
Tony Snesko is a Swift-boat vet. He didn't know Kerry in Vietnam and — like the others I spoke to — doesn't want to debate Kerry's medals or combat experiences. Snesko says Kerry's testimony "put a plague on anyone that served in the war that would last the rest of our lives. ... I don't think there's any way to ever remove from us the stain ... [Kerry's] testimony about us being called rapists, child-killers and the like ... I don't know of anyone of the hundreds of Swift-boat guys that I know and Vietnam veterans that ever participated in any kind of atrocity."
Since the beginning of June, Snesko — with a handmade display of posters and papers mounted on a split U-Haul wardrobe box — has been spending his weekends sitting near the Vietnam War Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. His display includes copies of Kerry's 1971 testimony, one of the fliers that Kerry's group — Vietnam Veterans Against the War — distributed on one of its marches, and the like. Snesko talks with hundreds of people each day. He shocks them by reading passages from Kerry's statements. Snesko says, "I change a lot of minds down there. ... It happens every hour or so when someone says, 'I didn't know that, I'm not voting for Kerry.'"
Mike Bradley had a lot of problems when he returned from Vietnam, and he thinks Kerry — and the rest of the anti-war crowd of those years — is responsible for them. He suffered discrimination against returning vets; for a time, he was even denied permission to date the lady who's now his wife because he was "one of those guys." Bradley remembers another Kerry libel against the Vietnam vets: that they were all alcoholics and drug addicts, and, as he told me, "we got that stink on us and that's what we lived with." Pete Webster is yet another Vietnam vet who blames Kerry for much of the suffering of returning soldiers: "If anyone got raped, it was the Vietnam vets who served honorably. Kerry is a serial rapist. He smeared us every day in the press, and raped us again, and again and again."
Denny Baum is totally disabled as a result of wounds received in Vietnam complicated by disease. Baum will never forgive Kerry for what he said and did in protesting the Vietnam War. "I want to do something to prevent a person with the character of John Kerry from becoming the president and commander-in-chief of this country." Baum remembers Kerry's Senate testimony: "He proceeded to tell my mom and dad, my sister ... everybody that I knew, the entire world, that I was a war criminal. And he said I intentionally murdered civilians, I raped women ... we looted and plundered. ... And he said that we did that on a day-to-day basis with full knowledge of our commanding officers. That is such a gigantic lie, he can never be forgiven for it. And the thing is that to this day he won't apologize. We've asked him to, and he won't."
This isn't about politics. Pete Webster told me, "If the GOP were running Hillary Clinton, we'd still be saying, 'Kerry lied.'" The Vietnam Vets for Truth want their reputations restored, and they want Kerry to apologize for more than 30 years of defaming their character. As they see it, Kerry stole their honor from them in 1971. They want it back — and they're coming to get it.
— NRO contributor
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