In Search Of Stolen Valor

On the twitters, my pal, Eric Mayer, showed me video after video of men and women walking about in public wearing military uniforms, pretending to be soldiers when the closest they came to being in harm’s way was a paper cut.  Unsurprisingly, real soldiers and former soldiers, of which Eric is proudly one, take umbrage at the poseurs.

As can be seen in this video, it’s something that sufficiently disturbs those whose lives were at risk that they feel compelled to go out of their way to test, and to prove, that others are liars.  Stolen valor.

And it’s not just guys being macho, or hoping to pick up chicks who dig a guy in uniform. Women do it too.  And it’s hard to fault people who have been willing to sacrifice their lives for being aggressively concerned that others are putting on the uniform when they haven’t.  I gave the phenomenon a name, Munchausen by uniform, as it struck me as a pretty sick way of faking one’s way through life.

But then, this same aggressiveness can cause some to attack the wrong person for the wrong reason.  A recent vet spied an old man walking around an art festival wearing a Marine uniform.  His blood must have boiled, so he demanded a cop challenge his stolen valor.

On Memorial Day, 75-year-old Robert Ford says he was wearing his Marine uniform at Artsfest when a soldier reportedly told a police officer he was a phony. Ford said the officer then approached him and shouted to a crowd, “He’s not a real Marine! Stolen valor!”

But Ford is a veteran. An archivist confirmed he served in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1964.

Two things immediately jump out. First, that Ford was 75-years-old. While it’s not impossible for a Septuagenarian to fake being a vet, it’s far more likely that they “feel” the memories of their youth as soldiers, and while it was suppressed for many years as they worked to support their family, it looms larger as they age. No, it’s not a certainty, but it happens often.

Second, that Ford was a Marine from 1958 to 1964. World War II was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the Korean Conflict remained raw. The Cold War was in full tilt and Vietnam was starting.  It was a simpler time in America, where some of the magic official cues that Iraq vets use to out the fakers (such as demanding one’s MOS) doesn’t quite apply.

Ford said he was caught off guard when Detective John O’Connor approached him the first time.

“He made the comment that I have to investigate for stolen valor, which I thought was a little insulting,” Ford said.

Ford said O’Connor walked away and came back a few minutes later.

“He demanded an answer and started shouting, “where did you go to boot camp,” said Ford,  “I realized at that point this was very strange.”

O’Connor, the accuser was a detective, and detectives have to detect, so it was his “duty” to “investigate for stolen valor.  While this may be the new normal for today’s Marine, it apparently wasn’t to be expected or enabled by Ford.  Just because some punk demands to know “where did you go to boot camp” doesn’t mean that Ford is compelled to acquiesce to his investigation.

Ford said he has played the bugle and or participated in more than 630 military funerals at Fort Indiantown Gap.  He had to stop after suffering a heart attack in December.

Old Marines may be much more concerned with the memories of the dead, honoring their fallen brothers, than the current anger over the theft of “valor.”  On this front, I’ve accumulated some personal knowledge, and aged vets are now in the position of being there for the funeral of fellow vets as they survived the wars, but still reach the end of their lives.  Most vets want military recognition at their funerals, and it’s guys like Ford who provide them with the respect they’ve earned.

On the flip side, it’s guys like Detective John O’Connor who are far more concerned that someone might be in uniform undeservedly, and so are willing to threaten, embarrass, harass a Marine veteran like Ford because it’s far more important to challenge and accuse than show respect.

Much as we can appreciate the concern of honorable veterans about those who “steal” valor they haven’t earned, the rush to accuse, and the obsession about shaming someone as quickly and harshly as possible, is no better or more understandable than with any other unfounded accusation.

As closed the video, it remains to be seen whether Harrisburg Detective O’Connor has enough valor of his own to apologize to Robert Ford.

H/T Vice

23 thoughts on “In Search Of Stolen Valor

  1. Patrick Maupin

    I’m not sure the pols have thoroughly thought through the concept of expanding the areas where lying is a crime. If this trend continues, half the cops and half the politicians will wind up in jail.

  2. Martin Goodson

    Forgive my asking, but what basis did the police officer have for asking this gentleman anything? The Stolen Valor act of 2013 does not criminalize the wearing of a military uniform, and I see nothing in the article to suggest Mr. Ford was doing anything other than that. What crime, exactly, did the police officer suspect Mr. Ford of committing?

      1. Eric Mayer

        Here’s a quick down and dirty as I wait to coach my little league team. The federal stolen valor laws were declared an unconstitutional limit to speech. Some states have attempted to find a way to get around this, but I’m not aware of any of them succeeding. So, unless he believed that the alleged liar was trying to defraud (or actually defrauding) someone through false claims of service, there was nothing to investigate.

        As a result of laws falling short, public shaming has become the consequence when stolen valor is suspected. This is an example of how good intentions always have the potential to run amok. For oodles of examples of actual stolen valor, check out the Guardians of Valor or This Ain’t Hell blogs.

          1. Dragoness Eclectic

            I liked Oodles, the one time I ate there. It was a lunch place on New Oxford St, in London, UK, back in 1979.

  3. Marc R

    The Stolen Valor Act didn’t last long. The law went into effect in 2013 and US v Alvarez held it’s a free speech issue and not criminal activity. So the law is amended that only by obtaining material benefits like vet contractors winning bids, receiving educational or healthcare benefits or other pecuniary gain. Whether a girl sleeps with you is a “material gain” because you falsely claimed being a delta force CIA sniper who’s military records are classified is a factual matter. Either way, claiming a unit you didn’t serve in deserves an ass-beating whether you get formally charged or not.

    1. SHG Post author

      Every time you feel the urge to write a comment, take a deep breath. Then another. Then ask, am I adding anything illuminating, like who I think deserves an ass-beating?

      You see, Robert Ford may well have gotten an ass-beating because they were sure he was lying. And at 75, an ass-beating causes a great deal of damage. Are you trying to say that you support serious injury, perhaps death, to an old Marine because of an excess of emotions and the certainty of the self-righteous? I don’t think so.

      1. Marc R

        I’m saying a person falsely claiming service, if confronted by someone who did serve, deserves an ass beating. While I am fond of innocent elderly men being beaten by cops, in this case the 75 year old was a Marine. So my post wouldn’t apply to his ass being beaten.

        The point I made that’s relevant is the Stolen Valor claim yelled by the cop. That law was overturned last year. It’s akin to an officer yelling at a beer stand at the county far because “prohibition violator!”

        1. SHG Post author

          I understood. Do you understand the implications? How about we be a bit more circumspect about vigilantism and endorsing beatings? After the fact, we may know who’s who (or not). But it’s not necessarily easier to know who’s a liar and who’s for real then it is with any other accusation. Still think they should get an ass-beating? And when a mistake is made, would you take comfort in saying, “but I only meant the actual *false* ones, not the ones who you thought were false but turned out to be true.”

          1. Marc R

            Scott, I don’t believe an ass-beating is any type of legal policy. Just morally I could see somebody rendering an ass-beating of a poseur and not caring if they’re arrested for battery. Obviously until a DD214 is viewed, there’s no way to know who served where and what.
            My legal point was just that the cop was wrong to invoke stolen valor since it doesn’t exist in the 2013 format but is now strictly tied to proof of material gain from the intentional deceit since Alvarez.

        2. Noxx

          I’m fairly certain that the entire aim of lofty ideals like Justice, is to elevate our society beyond the need for “ass beatings”, yes?

    2. Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk

      Yes, because if there’s anything that the men and women who have served in our military over the years have done it for, it is the right of tough guys who are sufficiently outraged to mete out summary corporal punishment in the streets. Note how those doing the confronting in the videos linked in this post do so without committing battery. It’s almost like there’s an alternative to extra-judicial ass-whippings.

    1. SHG Post author

      My “editor” was off on a bike ride yesterday, and left me to my own devices. So thanks, fixed.

  4. David M.

    I’m an outsider looking in, someone from a country where soldiers in uniform get jeered at by kids on the street, so I presumptively don’t get it and apologize in advance for stepping on any toes.

    Can the guys who do this really be said to be dishonoring America’s military? Guys with small dicks and big mouths, pretending they achieved something they weren’t good enough to. How could an ineffectual fantasist like Mr. Yetman have an impact on the merit won by real soldiers?

    I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for a real vet to run into one of these posers, and they deserve to be yelled at. But must they be pilloried because their insecurities drove them to dress like better men? Be made into permanent laughingstocks for being weak? How do hundreds of thousands of clicks for Munchausen reality TV safeguard the military’s honor?

    Showing them a little mercy might show the military in just as strong a light. And these chumps would get a second chance. Yetman may be an asshole, but he’s still human.

  5. Curtis

    For the record, no one fought, died, and lost body parts for your freedumb, consteetootion, and Bill of colorable pretexts.

  6. Ken Hagler

    Whenever I hear someone talking about valor as if it’s something that can be stolen, I’m reminded of a famous movie quote: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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