By Greg Taylor
VETERANS DAY IS a special day set aside to honor those who have made sacrifices, and some who made the ultimate sacrifice, to preserve our fragile freedoms.
This summer, the Peninsula Daily News featured a front-page story about a Vietnam veteran riding his motorcycle to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to pay homage to his fallen comrades. Because he was dying of cancer — the result of Agent Orange exposure — the trek was dubbed “The Wall Before I Die.”
To those familiar with the history of that war, the veteran’s age and the dates he professed to have served in Vietnam, 1974 and 1975, just did not ring true.
America had ceased large-unit combat operations by 1973.
A FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request exposed the truth: the veteran had served but had never stepped foot in Vietnam — and certainly could not be dying of Agent Orange exposure.
This development is laid out in great detail in a recent article by PDN reporter Jesse Major.
Sadly, lying about one’s service is not uncommon.
Statistics show that for every authentic Navy Seal, hundreds make false claims.
This phenomenon, quickly becoming an epidemic, resulted in the passing of the Stolen Valor Act.
Hard to believe, but the First Amendment allows one to lie about their service.
But, if you receive any tangible benefit from your lie or display certain valorous medals, that is against the law.
Federal prosecution of violations does happen. There is a campaign to legally raise Stolen Valor to the level of impersonating a police officer. Several states are creating their own Stolen Valor laws.
During the war and for many years after, some harbored negative sentiment against Vietnam veterans. Today, Americans have come to understand these young soldiers were honorably serving their country and veterans are now recognized for their service.
Unfortunately, some actual veterans falsely embellish their records, but it is just as likely that fake valor vets have never served at all.
Apparently these individuals are so desperate for recognition, they are willing to fabricate a lie to claim glory for themselves.
Search YouTube for “Stolen Valor” and you will find many videos of fake-vet encounters.
There are several ways to get at the truth of a claim to valor, but it is always best to start off calmly and conversationally and not jump to conclusions. Keep it civil.
Inquire about their unit and where they served.
All names on The Wall are listed in chronological order. Inquire about the names and dates of their fallen comrades’ deaths.
Ask to see their Military Discharge Form DD214. Dates, duty stations, awards, rank and other details will verify their service. Those who claim to have lost theirs can receive a copy through the Department of Veterans Affairs website. If they are reluctant to provide the form, you can use Standard Form 180 “Request Pertaining to Military Records” though the National Archives — without their permission.
You will receive a document titled “Information Releasable Under the FOIA”. There you will find more than enough information to verify service.
Forging or altering any federal form is a felony.
An (unaltered) driver’s license will verify if the claim of service jives with dates of combat.
Perhaps the biggest red flags are claiming records are classified, restricted or burned.
Only certain missions or events are ever classified — and never for individuals. The National Records Center fire of 1973 destroyed 80 percent of Army and Air Force records prior to 1961.
Lying about service to this country is a serious offense, and I believe it is our duty to report it.
Every liar steals something precious from those who made grave sacrifices in service to our country — and from their families and loved ones.
Greg Taylor volunteered for service in Vietnam (1968-1969) while serving with the Army as a Specialist E-5 from 1966-1969. He is a retired carpenter living in Port Angeles.