Saturday 11 July 2009

Are they really heroes or just liars?

Whenever we make someone a hero, he's not only heroic, he's trustworthy, he's honest, he's loyal and he's sincere. All these other attributes get attached to him. Masquerading as a war hero has become riskier — but more tempting — during a time of war. Right now, most everybody loves the military, and that's why we are seeing more and more of these impostors. Some of these people assume heroic alter egos to offset their shortcomings.

For those who have received service awards, it's akin to a slap across the face when false heroes take credit – and receive benefits for actions they never performed.

H.L.I. Lordship Industries, a company in Hauppauge, N.Y., that held a contract with the Pentagon to produce Medals of Honor. In 1996, the company had illegally sold 300 awards, many of them snapped up by impostors. The firm lost its government contract and paid a $22,500 fine.

The number of people claiming to be Medal of Honor recipients has diminished in recent years, but the number pretending to have received other valor awards has increased.

For decades, barroom blowhards boasted of the battles they'd fought, enemies they'd cut down in hand-to-hand combat and the awards bestowed upon them. Sometimes they dressed the part. Since December 2006, the Stolen Valor Act, a little-known American federal law, has made it a federal offense not only to wear unearned military medals but to make any claims, written or spoken, about the receipt of meritorious awards. Falsified military license plate applications also fall under American law. A conviction can carry a fine of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.

Paul Alan White, 47, of Houston, an ex-Marine who pretended to be a Vietnam War hero pleaded guilty in December 2002 to wearing a warrant officer's uniform adorned with some of the military's highest medals for valor that he didn't earn. He admitted to have illegally worn a warrant officer uniform adorned with the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. The Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor as the Navy's highest honor for heroism. The Silver Star is awarded for bravery in combat, and the Purple Heart is awarded for wounds received in combat. It is known informally as "the award no one wants" because it is earned through pain and suffering, sometimes death. It is also the award everybody respects and is highly prized by all who receive it.

White served in the Marines from 1973 to 1976, however prosecutors said his records showed that he never achieved a rank higher than sergeant and did not serve in Vietnam or in combat. In fact he was never overseas, and never saw combat during his military service. White used his phony uniform and awards to make himself an honored guest at Marine functions, such as the Marine Corps birthday celebration at the Veterans Administration Hospital in November 2001, and a Marine birthday ball at a Houston hotel a few days later.

In Florida, retired bread truck driver Jackie Albert Stern, Medal of Honor resplendent on his chest, gets his picture taken at the local sheriff's office. And in Illinois, Judge Michael F. O'Brien let it be known that he had not one but two Medals of Honor for valorous Navy service off the coast of Lebanon in 1958. The only problem is that these ‘heroes’ were fakes, and the medals were lies. They were fabrications of war-story imaginations by men who, in some cases, let the farce drag on for years, deceiving their families, their friends and even high-ranking military officers who warmly welcomed them to countless Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades.

Mitchell Paige is a no-nonsense ex-leatherneck. He was a platoon sergeant on Guadalcanal who is making it his life's mission to track down and expose Medal of Honor fakers. He has been doing this for more than 40 years and, so far, he says, he has bagged 500 of them. He says he finds them all over--at parades, at military bases and mentioned in newspaper stories and obituaries. Some of the impostors have been in the service, and some have not.

Perhaps the most flagrant case of fraud was that of Michael F. O'Brien, an Illinois Circuit Court judge. When he applied to Illinois authorities for special Medal of Honor license plates in 1992, the state checked with Lieutenant Colonel Harold Fritz, a medal recipient who was still in the Army at the time, stationed in Illinois. It was the beginning of the end for O'Brien. His citation was fabricated. Faced with the choice of prosecution or resigning from the bench, O'Brien chose to quit his judgeship and go into private practice.

Jackie Albert Stern, on the other hand, had plenty to say when he was sentenced. Stern was the Florida retiree who bought his Medal of Honor at a flea market and was caught by a sheriff's detective who coaxed him into coming down to the station and having his picture taken with the medal on, a requisite for prosecution in federal court. When Stern was sentenced to one year of probation in December 1996, he was ordered to write a letter of apology to every living recipient of the Medal of Honor and have the letter published in the newspaper on Memorial Day 1997. What was published was;

"I had no right to wear this prestigious medal as I had done nothing of merit to earn it. I know that my actions have cheapened the honor of those who have received this valiant award, and my pitiful attempt and selfish quest for family recognition has tarnished the dignity of all the brave men and women on whom this medal was legitimately bestowed.''

Fred Renz, the Menlo Park businessman, did not have to write a letter. When he was sentenced in December 1997, after pleading guilty to unauthorized wearing of the medal, then-federal magistrate Joan Brennan in San Francisco fined him $2,500, gave him a year's probation and ordered him into drug, alcohol and psychiatric counseling. Renz's fraud came to light after a story about his ‘exploits’ in Korea was published in the weekly Menlo Park newspaper, the Country Almanac, in August 1996. In the story, Renz claimed his Medal of Honor was the result of a mission he flew against North Korean troops on Dec. 7, 1956. In fact, the Korean War cease-fire was signed in July 1953, when Renz was 16 years old. Renz gave The Chronicle a copy of what he said were his discharge papers, which said he entered the Air Force in June 1955 at age 19 as an enlisted man, and by the time he left, in May 1959, he was a major, a rank several retired Air Force colonels and a three- star general said was impossible to attain so quickly.

Carlos Riosvalle claimed that he had been "shot down while a pilot during WWII". He bilked the Department of Veterans Affairs out of $22,818 in benefits. He also claimed he had served in the well-known ‘American Volunteer Group’ in China and had been awarded medals of valor. In fact, he is a resident alien who has never served in the military. He was sentenced to four days in jail and ordered to pay $28,910 in restitution.

Reggie Lee Buddle claimed he had served and earned the rank of captain in the United States Marine Corps. He also boasted a chest full of medals, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Service Medal and the United States Marine Corps Gold Jump Wings. Buddle also claimed to be a Marine Corps chaplain, officiating over weddings, baptisms and funerals. In fact, Buddle was never in the Marine Corps, never earned those medals and wasn't a chaplain. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 500 hours of community service.

According to his indictment, Elven Joseph Swisher claimed he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his alleged combat experience, defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs out of more than $95,000, a figure calculated by the VA. He also claimed he had been awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Medal and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. He never had combat experience and wasn’t awarded

Over the course of seven years, Roy John Scott received $21,960 in medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He claimed he had served in the Marine Corps in Korea, where he was wounded and awarded medals of valor. In fact, Scott never served outside the United States, never earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Action Ribbon he said he did and was actually court martialed and dishonorably discharged from the military. Scott pleaded guilty and faced up to one year and six months in jail and $105,000 dollars in fines. As part of his plea agreement, Scott was ordered to pay $21,960 in restitution.

Merrick Kelly Hersey never served in the military. That didn't stop him from claiming to have been awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star and seeking veteran benefits for a feigned case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Michael David Heit deceived the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., claiming he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He claimed he was a Vietnam veteran who had been a prisoner of war for more than three years and had received multiple medals; including a Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star. He actually never served in Vietnam, was never a POW and had never been awarded those medals of valor.

Despite never making it out of basic training, Jesse Adam Macbeth sought medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming he suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his service as an Army Ranger in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. He also claimed he had been awarded a Purple Heart. Macbeth pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison

For more than six decades, Howard Manoian reveled in his heroic reputation as one of the men who landed in Nazi-occupied France on D-Day. It was all a lie. But after Manoian, 84, was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest award for bravery, at last month's 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings, his true war record was finally made public.

Rather than storming across Europe and taking part in some of the most famous actions in military history, the self-styled American hero in fact spent most of the war minding a supply dump well behind the front line in northern France after arriving on Utah Beach by supply ship. Manoian's war wounds were also non existent, although he did suffer a broken middle finger while on standby in England, and then heavy bruising to another hand. He always told admirers he had been hit by German machine gun bullets in the left hand and both legs during a fierce fire fight on June 17 1944, and then again by a Nazi Messerschmitt which strafed the field hospital where he was recovering.

Since the war, Manoian had even set up home in Chef-du-Pont, a village near Sainte-Mère-Église, where a plaque was erected in his honour, alongside the 82nd Airborne museum in the town. Marc Lefèvre, the mayor of Sainte-Mère-Église, said: "It's unbelievable to think how we've been misled over all these years. He was always perched up at the bar, in front of a beer, recounting his incredible stories from the war. The ex-serviceman's Legion d'Honneur is now expected to be rescinded, and his name and photograph removed from official records, and from museums. Christophe Prime, of the D-Day Memorial Museum in Caen, Normandy, said: “There are always going to be people who invent their pasts to make themselves sound more heroic.”

What makes a person lie about his past?

Everybody lies. It may only be ‘white’ lies, but everyone tells lies or omits to tell the ‘full truth’. There are many reasons people lie pathologically. The phenomenon of lying about one’s self have been light-skinned blacks trying to pass as white, women as men, Jews as gentile, and, most of all in recent times, gays trying to pass as straight---either through a direct lie about their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, or through trying to act or be more like those in the favored social group. In cases where people claim to have medals they haven’t earned may simply be that they don’t think they are high enough on the ladder of life and subsequently makes up stories to make themselves look better to others, or because they want sympathy or attention that they are not getting.

While sometimes pretense can involve only the refusal not to be forthcoming with information, and the willingness to let others' misperceptions of one's identity stand uncorrected, often pretense makes use of a direct and explicit falsehood such as those who claim they were awarded medals when in fact they didn’t get the medals.

Lying is immoral because it violates the autonomy of the person lied to as it treats the listener as a mere means to the liar’s ends, to be used and manipulated according to the liar’s purposes. Lying to someone involves the capacity to shape one's own identity; it may also, given the public dimensions of identity, require that one be able to influence others' perceptions of oneself.

Often it is quite difficult for such persons to change who they are if they cannot also change who people take them to be what they want them to think they are. This is why so many people wear medals they didn’t earn. They want those around them to think of them as heroes when in fact, they are not made of the stuff heroes are made of. Often just wearing the medals suits their purposes because when others see the medals, they make the presumption that the person wearing them is a hero and deserving of respect.

We as humans tend to be attracted to individuals who present their natural selves to the world as ideal persons and certainly war heroes are the kind of people we are attracted to.

A feeling of insecurity results from a sense of being unaccepted, disapproved or rejected. Insecure people have a poor body image, making them believe that others see them in a negative light. This makes them self-conscious, tense and anxious in dealing with others. They always feel overshadowed or overlooked due to the people in their lives who seemed to be more successful, smarter, prettier, more handsome, more athletic or higher achievers, getting much attention. This is why the wearing of medals and uniforms of high ranks to underachievers is like honey is to a bee.

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