Phony vets, wannabe heroes

953 and HomeOfHeros.

We are now four years into the war on terror, and already, the tales of phony valor and fake atrocities, in Afghanistan and Iraq are legion. As usual, the stories are whoppers, and as usual, reporters are all-too-willing to accept them at face value.

Sgt. Andrew Isbell was seemingly among the most heroic of the returning soldiers from the war in Iraq. When he appeared at his drug-possession trial in Rockport, Texas in August of 2004, neatly clad in his Army uniform, he told jurors that he had recently earned two Bronze Stars in Iraq, plus a Purple Heart for the bullet wound in his shoulder. Jurors were sympathetic to the fact that Isbell, an infantryman, was on medical leave from his dangerous job patrolling the streets of Baghdad, and acquitted him.

Subsequent investigation proved that Isbell had seen no combat, suffered no wounds, and earned no decorations. He wasn’t even a sergeant. He had instead worked in food service as a private, and had been discharged from the Army after being AWOL for two months. For his lies in court, Isbell was charged with aggravated perjury.

Sgt. Thomas Larez was another seemingly heroic vet. He’d suffered multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds when he pulled an injured soldier to safety while under fire from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite his wounds and temporary blindness caused by a concussion grenade, Larez rallied, killed seven Taliban fighters, and captured a gaggle of others. A Dallas television station celebrated Laraz’s exploits, only to sheepishly run a retraction when it turned out that, while Larez was indeed a Marine, he had never set foot in Afghanistan.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch exposed a different kind of fake: One who’s making the kind of atrocity claims that got John Kerry noticed 34 years ago.

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey served with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Iraq for nearly a year during 2003. During that time, he claims, he and other Marines (whom he labeled “psychopathic killers”) deliberately gunned down innocent Iraqi civilians, fired on peaceful protesters, and shot a 4-year-old child through the head at a checkpoint. Or was it a 6-year-old?

“How is a 6-year-old child with a bullet in his head a terrorist, because that is the youngest I killed,” Massey told an audience at Cornell University. Or was it a girl? “That’s war: a 6-year old girl with a bullet hole in her head at an American checkpoint,” he told a Vermont audience.

Except, as Massey later acknowledged to the Post-Dispatch, he’d never actually shot any child, boy or girl. “I meant, that’s what my unit did,” he explained. Except that it didn’t, according to Massey’s fellow Marines and the journalists who covered them. Nor did they target civilians and protestors. In fact, as the Post-Dispatch documents, each one of Massey’s claims is “either demonstrably false or exaggerated –according to his fellow Marines, Massey’s own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey’s unit.”

Nevertheless, Massey’s lies have earned him the usual rewards of the anti-war Left: A book deal, invitations to speak at elite colleges, and a place of honor with Cindy Sheehan’s traveling circus. Confronted by the Post-Dispatch with the complete lack of corroboration for his atrocity tales, Massey merely shrugs. “Admitting guilt is a hard thing to do,” he says.

It sure is.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.

–Shakespeare, Henry V

Going through life feeling cheap and accursed cannot be pleasant–which is why, presumably, so many gentlemen go through it pretending they shot down the Red Baron, survived the Bataan Death March, or helped capture Saddam Hussein, as some fraud has probably claimed to have done while an admirer paid for his drink. Those who encounter these phony heroes will likely go home with a good story. But nothing they hear will top the true story of the man who wandered into a chapter of the American Legion in Washington state a few years ago wanting to become a member. Like many stories of military frauds, this one comes by way of champion hoax-exposer B. G. Burkett.

The applicant–who was Asian American–filled out a form indicating he was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and had been honorably discharged. He became a valued member of the chapter, eventually winning office as the chapter commander.

There was just one hitch. This man was a Vietnam veteran, all right. But he’d neglected to mention that he’d fought for North Vietnam. Once this shocking fact was revealed–despite his popularity with his fellow vets–the soldier’s membership was gone with the wind.

As Steve Waterman, veteran and author of Just a Sailor, puts it, “There are very few things lower on the planet within the human race than one who will cower in the corner when the shooting starts, yet come to the front and claim he was in the midst of it once the fighting is over. Unfortunately this fakery has become epidemic within our society. I am one of dozens of combat veterans who have taken it upon themselves, and at their own expense to ferret these scum out and expose them for what they really are. Coward is a word that should never be used on the battlefield, as every man reacts differently when bullets are flying. However, I do not hesitate to use it here, as I feel it applies as strongly as it ever could. If you didn’t fight in a war, that is no dishonor. If you ran off to Canada or Sweden, I can live with that, but if you claim you were there and you were not, somebody is going to expose you for what you are. Then YOU can live with THAT! These days the newspapers just LOVE to write about fake veterans of all types.” 



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