Military man looking for something real

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Callahan County, an agricultural region outside Abilene, Texas, is a place where people pay attention to their neighbors. Bart Kendrick, whose family has lived in the county since the nineteenth century, takes particular notice of vehicles. What year is it? In the morning, a pickup truck was parked in front of the garage. In the evening, the truck had been replaced by a patrol car. When Bart went to introduce himself to his new neighbors, no one answered the door.

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The yard was weedy; the windows were covered with aluminum foil. In December, Bart and his wife, Amber, read in the local paper that Leroy Foley, a police officer in the nearby town of Clyde, was running for sheriff of Callahan County. The Kendricks did a little digging and discovered that Foley lived fifty-five miles away, in another county, which under Texas law made him ineligible for the position. Bart is a deliberate man with a long, wiry beard.

If something strikes him as wrong, he feels obligated to fix it. After Bart buried her, he reviewed his security-camera footage to identify the culprit, then spent several nights perched in a tree with a pistol until he got his revenge. He began to film himself knocking on the door and getting no answer. He photographed the trash can by the road to show that its contents never changed. On his campaign Facebookhe displayed his medals: a Silver Star, for valor in combat, and a Purple Heart. Jowers was well known, and largely well liked, throughout Military man looking for something real county; I heard stories of people calling him for help wrangling loose goats and managing family disputes.

Foley repeatedly invoked his time in the Army. Instead, people called Bart a stalker. He was disheartened by the community response, but his wife was energized. On January 13th, Amber filled out a form on Military Phonies, one of a of Web sites dedicated to exposing people who invent or inflate their military service. I just need help in finding out if he does indeed have these medals. That night, a representative from Military Phonies e-mailed Amber, saying that it usually took the group several weeks to put together a complete record, and pointing her to a list of Silver Star recipients compiled by a military historian named Doug Sterner.

Foley was not on the list. There was no evidence that he was an Airborne Ranger or a sniper, that he had received a Purple Heart or a Silver Star, or that he had been wounded in combat. It turned out that he had submitted a doctored DD —the record of military service—when he applied for his position, crediting himself with such honors as the Saudi Arabian Liberation Medal and the Sniper Badge, neither of which exist.

Within a few days, Foley reed. Politicians lie to get us into wars; generals lie about how well things are going; soldiers lie about what they did during their service. Inwhen George Washington awarded ribbons and badges to valorous Revolutionary War troops, he was already worrying about pretenders. When Walter Washington Williams, thought to be the last surviving veteran of the Confederate Army, died, inPresident Eisenhower called for a national day of mourning.

It turned out that Williams had fabricated his service, and that the second-longest-surviving Confederate soldier probably had, too. The phrase originated with B. Burkett began FOIA -ing with abandon. He requested the records of a Green Beret who ed autographs for kids at parades: faker. Dennehy served five years in the Marines, but never in Vietnam; he apologized after Burkett went public with his accusation.

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Even so, there were only a handful of people regularly investigating false military claims. Like Burkett, Sterner verged on the obsessive.

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By day, he managed an apartment building in Pueblo, Colorado; in his spare time, he maintained lists of medal recipients and wrote eighty-one books, the majority about military history. His best-sellers are not about war, however. Sterner had never intended to expose fakers—he was more interested in the real heroes—but he kept running across them. At a gathering for honorees, in the nineties, a short man approached Sterner, holding a photograph of a man wearing a medal.

The work sometimes made him uncomfortable. When a woman wrote to Sterner insisting that her husband be added to his Medal of Honor database, Cottone asked Sterner to pretend to believe her. When he shared his anxieties, Cottone told him that, if a person was lying about his service, he was often lying about more substantial things, too. At the time, wearing an unearned military medal was against the law, but there was no particular consideration given to lies about military service; the same chapter of the federal statute also made it illegal to proffer a fake police badge, pretend to be a member of 4-H, or misuse the likeness of Smokey Bear.

That began to change inafter an Arizona man was featured in a local newspaper as a highly decorated veteran who had, among other improbable exploits, assisted in the capture of Saddam Hussein. Sterner helped expose him as a liar, but he was frustrated that there was no criminal penalty.

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She got an A. Then she decided to try to get the legislation passed. Accompanying that trust was mounting anxiety that it could be abused. On September 7,the act, which made it a federal crime to falsely claim receipt of a military award or decoration, passed in the Senate by unanimous consent; President George W. Bush ed it into law soon afterward. But, six years later, in United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Xavier Alvarez, a water-district official in Southern California, who had been convicted of lying about receiving the Medal of Honor.

Alvarez had also falsely claimed to be a professional ice-hockey player and to have been married to a Mexican movie star. Congress passed an amended statute, which made it illegal to fraudulently wear medals, embellish rank, or make false claims of service in order to obtain money or some other tangible benefit, making stolen valor an issue of fraud rather than of speech.

But, in his majority opinion in Alvarez, Justice Anthony Kennedy had suggested another way forward. InEric Lindinger, a Gulf War veteran, had a job that involved a lot of cross-country driving. He kept having odd interactions with strangers.

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The guy would usually be polite, but the interactions felt more like interrogations than like conversations. As Justice Kennedy predicted, public shaming has become the de-facto response to suspected stolen valor. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans. Researching potential phonies was once a lonely enterprise; now there are a dozen Web sites, message boards, and Facebook groups that provide instruction and crowdsource the work.

The activity has become a type of bonding exercise for former service members; some even seem to be reliving their war experience when hunting down phonies. On StolenValor. Documenting and debunking fakers has become easier as more of our lives have moved online. People lie about their service in YouTube clips, Facebook posts, and text messages; researchers have exposed a man who claimed on a dating site to have been on the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden, and another who posted photographs of himself wearing a Green Beret uniform on his wedding day.

Ed Caffrey began following stolen-valor Web sites when he was on active duty in the Air Force. The lies that people tell shift with the appetites of the era. Veterans of the Second World War placed themselves at the sites of iconic battles, even when Military man looking for something real were stationed far away. People falsely claiming to have served in Vietnam often used the war to explain some failure or trauma in their personal lives—their homelessness or their struggles with addiction.

Culture shapes lies, too. Shipley is one of the most prominent figures in the field, the closest thing it has to an influencer. Shipley studied how to make a video go viral. The YouTube channel quickly grew popular with veterans, police officers, and firefighters. By last year, his videos had been viewed fifty million times. The interviews present a satisfying moral clarity: Shipley, a broad, deep-voiced man with lush hair, plays the role of the good soldier, confidently asserting his dominance over the dissembling faker.

Shipley tried to keep things more or less professional, but his fans could be less scrupulous. Since Shipley started his channel, confrontations between service members and potential impostors have become wildly popular on YouTube. The accused mumbles nonsensical answers before slinking off, exposed and humiliated. Shipley partly blames himself for seeding these confrontations. An Iraq War veteran was jumped and had his leg broken outside a Sacramento bar by two men who thought he was lying about being a marine.

Bob Ford, a former marine in his seventies, was harassed in front of a crowd by two men who were suspicious because his belt buckle appeared too ornate for his rank. Grifters lie about being war heroes, then steal money from women they meet on dating sites. People in positions of trust use military credentials to bolster their authority; pastors, sheriffs, and politicians are regularly featured on stolen-valor Web sites.

In many instances, though, the motivations are muddier.

Military man looking for something real

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