"The passage of the Stolen Valor Act was an important first step
in ensuring that we preserve the honor of those who served. I
ask you to take the next step and make their sacrifices public.
Having a readily accessible and public database will not only
give the tools to law enforcement to prosecute fraudulent claims
but it will properly recognize those who have been honored with
Congressman John T. Salazar,
Salazar Introduced HR 666 in the 111th Congress
A Roll of Honor Needed For
Accuracy in Media Stories
Throughout the year, and
more-so near Veterans Day and Memorial Day, local media focus on
home-town heroes and their stories. This is GOOD--assuming that
the stories they tell and the heroes they highlight are
legitimate. Unfortunately, such is not always the case. A reporter
doing a story on science can quickly verify if someone earned a
Nobel Prize, or covering a celebrity they can quickly verify if
the Hollywood star earned an Oscar. But when it comes to military
awards, even such high decorations as the Navy Cross or
Distinguished Service Cross, there is little way to expediently
verify whether a purported recipient is legitimate or not. When
the subject of their story claims to have served three tours of
duty in Vietnam and earned SIX Purple Hearts, the reporter is
usually left with few options:
1) Submit a
FOIA and hold their story for 4 - 12 weeks in hopes the records
can be found,
2) Take the interviewee at
their word and publish the report, true or false,
3) Leave out any mention of
combat and combat decorations,
4) Say "To hell with it,
this isn't worth the bother" and quit writing about
I have read heart-rending
Veterans Day news stories about men who suffered as Prisoners of
War, only to discover that the individual never even served in the
military. Some have claimed America's highest military decorations
when a review of their records (obtained by those who investigate
such claims after the story was published) reveal the person never
served in combat.
The easiest thing for REAL
veterans and TRUE heroes to do is BLAME THE REPORTER--"You
should have done your homework!" Fact is, with the current
state of military records, it is almost impossible for a reporter
to do much by the way of fact-checking. The Roll of Valor demanded
by HR 666 would provide reporters much of what they need to
insure that their stories of service and valor are indeed,
Perhaps the WORST thing that
can happen for our TRUE heroes and REAL veterans is for the media
to quit writing stories about their service and sacrifice. But if
the current trend continues it may soon look like this:
* Reporter writes inspiring story...
* Reader questions claims and asks a
researcher to look into it...
* Subject of story is found to be a
* Newspaper publishes retracton...
* Reporter is embarrassed by public
exposure of their mistake...
* Reporter decides never to write another
Some who read
this may no doubt think, "If researchers can obtain
records to verify or refute the claims of such bogus heroes,
so too can the reporter." The fact is, most of these
claims are refuted after a check of records by Mary Schantag
of the POW Network--an expert in the field. What comes easy
(sometimes not THAT easy) for her, is only possible because
SHE knows the system. Frankly, few people even in the VA or
military circles have the knowledge to do what Mary does,
much less the average newspaper reporter.
The below are actual examples
of such "Stolen Valor" published by media and
subsequently found to be bogus. In every case cited, a National
Roll of Valor would have provided a means to fact-check before the
story was published. (Some are linked to reproductions of the
JOURNAL (September 5, 2007)
HEADLINE: John Collier earns second Silver Star for valor in Iraq
can blame the newspaper in the small town of Odon, IN, from
wanting to make a big deal about this local hero. Not only was
John Collier the first person to earn TWO Silver Stars in Iraq (to
date only ONE person has legitimate received TWO), he was a hero
holding the highest enlisted rank (Command Sergeant Major). His
other decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross,
Distinguished Service Medal, 2 Bronze Stars and 4 Purple Hearts.
In the photo published with his story he is also seen wearing the
distinctive badge awarded those few privileged to be a Guard at
the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Click
here to see the news story)
fact, Mr. Collier served from 1982 - 1988 as a Vehicle Mechanic,
mostly as a reservist, and NEVER saw combat or served as a Tomb
Guard. His only decoration is an Army Service Ribbon. See his
official records HERE.
Had this been available to the reporter in Odon, IN, this story
would never have been written.
HEADLINE: Local veterans return to Vietnam
The October 5, 2007 story about
three Oroville, California, veterans making a trip back to Vietnam
together was a touching one. Among the three friends was Mike
Fraser, "A special forces medic who was assigned to SAR
(Search and Rescue) and SOG (Study Observation Group). He was also
at the siege of Khe Sanh for 77 days and in the Ashau Valley...He
survived two tours in Vietnam; 1966-67 and then 1968-69....He was
wounded twice in the war and sustained other injuries from
shrapnel from mortar blasts and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade).
The SAR missions included rescuing downed pilots and some missions
had them flying in Thanksgiving dinners to soldiers. When Fraser
was medi-vacing injured soldiers during his first tour, he was
shot by an AK-47. During his second tour, he was evacuating
Marines out of a triple canopy jungle when his helicopter came
under fire. "It had taken all kinds of fire and it was loaded
and took off without me," Fraser explained. He was left on
the ground and later a helicopter returned with a STABO harness
that was lowered to pick him up. As he was being hoisted up to the
helicopter, he was shot by an AK-47. The STABO harness was
dangling with Fraser under fire and the helicopter was 3,000 feet
off the ground. He was transported to the hospital and had only 17
days left to go to finish his tour of duty."
Reporter Paula M. Felipe refused
to believe a phone call from me that there were serious problems
with Mr. Fraser's story. While he was on the trip we requested
Fraser's records but they still had not come back by the time
Fraser returned and Ms. Felipe wrote a follow-up article noting: "Fraser
said the trip didn't heal him. 'We didn't get to go north where I
had been during the war because of the weather, so it wasn't as
meaningful to me. We do plan to go back and visit the north next
time and see where I spent two years during the war period. It was
nice to be there and have no one shooting at you and not have to
sew anyone up or give anyone morphine,' Fraser said."
One week after that follow-up
story we received Fraser's
records. He did serve in the Air Force, as a Veterinary
Assistant. According to his records he never even served in
Vietnam. The newspaper was either too disinterested or too embarrassed
to publish a retraction, but did at last expose Fraser's fraud in
a February 27, 2008 story when Fraser was charged in Federal Court
for his lies.
Veterans Day 2004, the Range News in Willcox, Arizona,
wanted to put a positive spotlight on one of the local heroes in
the Global War on Terrorism. Gilbert Velasquez graced the front
page in a photo showing him holding a plaque with numerous medals
including the Silver Star. On the inside story Mr. Velasquez told
the reporter that he had also earned the Distinguished Service
Cross, which had been buried with his "God Fathers."
Mr. Velasquez exorbitant tales,
some of which are below, were ultimately proved to be a total
fabrication. Because this happened in 2004, before the Stolen
Valor Act, he could not be charged with a crime. (He is HOLDING
the medals, not WEARING them, and false claims were not illegal
before the Stolen Valor Act. The
newspaper was highly embarrassed and tried to sweep it under the
carpet. A very small retraction was printed and the Editors took
their ire out on the reporter, who could not be justly faulted.
Mr. Velasquez had displayed medals and paperwork to document his
experiences and heroism during the interviews. The reporter was
demoted from his desk and placed in the Classified Ads department
of his newspaper. Some quotes from Mr. Velasquez' story:
|“After he lost
three men in Somalia, ‘I had to go to my men’s family
and tell them it was a training accident,’ Velasquez said.
‘After I got out of the Army, I told the families exactly
what happened. One of the wives slapped me and I had to
regain my composure because I was crying with her.”
Velasquez never told his
story to a reporter nor to a Hollywood producer who came
knocking after Somalia. But he talked this week because “It
is important for the public to know some of the hardships we
really go through as soldiers.”
(About the movie Blackhawk
Down) “I declined to talk to Hollywood,” he said, “The
military didn’t want us to talk about it. I did not give
any interviews. It still hurts me bad to think about
Somalia, but I’ve made my peace with it.”
“The Rangers took a lot of
blame because Delta was not a well-known force back then and
wasn’t supposed to officially exist,” he said. “Although
it was considered a failed mission, there were many heroic
efforts. I considered it a failure of intelligence. Our
failure came when we lost friends over there.”
Hollywood said the warlord
was captured and killed several years later. Velasquez said,
despite the stand-down order, that it was just 48 hours
later. “If the movie had said we slaughtered the warlord
and his family and aides, it wouldn’t come off too well.
We know he was taking food and killing young kids. We didn’t
hesitate to kill him, his wife, his mistresses and even his
(RE OIF Service) “One of my
commanders told us to grab 15 soldiers and take the city of
Ballad,” he said. “That was an impossible mission and we
took our first casualty. My sergeant (his mentor who had
trained Velasquez) was killed in front of me. I had enough
and told our men to back off. We got help from the Third
Division and within 24 hours we killed 75 Iraqis and set up
curfew in Ballad.”
**Velasquez continued to
describe his role in the killing of Ouday and Quesay
Hussein, and in the capture of Sadaam…”As soon as I saw
his eyebrows I knew we had Hussein”, earning a second
Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross. The story
concludes by noting:
“One woman told me that the
military taught me to be a killer,” said Velasquez, who
professes to probably killing at least 85 of the enemy. “People
like me will always be willing to give their lives for their
country. I told her if you don’t like what I stand for,
pack up and get out.”
To Read the FULL Story Mr.
Velasquez provided to the reporters, click HERE
to download the full article as a MS WORD Document. WARNING: Do
NOT read immediately after eating--it may cause you to throw up!
intended to be an inspiring, patriotic story for Veterans Day.
Sadly, it was based upon falsehoods. Patrick Flannigan's TRUE
records are HERE.
Of course, secret missions and classified records are ALWAYS a
good line to take advantage of a reporter and garner a little
medals arrive after 23 years
James Bordewick Park Rapids Enterprise
Published Friday, November 09, 2007
Recognition for Patrick Flannigan’s military service may have
come a bit late, but it was no less deserved. Lance Cpl. Flannigan
served as a special forces Marine stationed in southeast
Asia between 1974 and 1976. While serving, he earned a Silver
Star, among other decorations, for his role in missions to
evacuate the US embassy in Saigon and the recovery of the merchant
ship Mayaguez. He received his medals 23 years later, after the
Department of Defense declassified other missions he was in.
Flannigan grew up in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. As
a child, he recalled getting into scrapes often. “In the
military, the people who excel are the ones who look for trouble.
I’ve always looked for trouble,” he joked. After high school,
Flannigan trained as an S2 Reconnaissance officer for the Marines,
specializing in mines, booby traps, camouflage and stealth
movement. When Saigon fell in 1975, he was the pointman for the
machine gunners during the rooftop evacuation of the US embassy.
“My job was to watch the ladder and to make sure if you weren’t
an American, you weren’t on the ladder,” he said.
Following the fall of Saigon, his unit in the 2nd Battalion,
9th Marines was sent to recover the US merchant vessel Mayaguez,
captured by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. The 2nd Battalion assaulted
the island of Koh Tang in the Bay of Tonkin May 14 and 15, 1975.
According to Flannigan, his unit of about 80 Marines encountered
several hundred Khmer Rouge. Fifteen Marines died and 40 were
wounded in the operation, with another three missing and presumed
Flannigan’s transport helicopter was shot down early on in
the assault, but the helicopter managed to land safely. Flannigan
helped the captain scuttle the vessel by setting explosive
charges. “I gave the captain the button, and when he pushed it,
the explosion lifted it 10 feet off the ground,” he recalls.
Flannigan was one of the wounded in Koh Tang, the last official
military action of the Vietnam War. He was shot while carrying the
body of a fallen squad leader. “Marines don’t leave their
dead,” he explained. Flannigan also participated in prisoner of
war rescue efforts in Laos and Cambodia after the US officially
pulled out troops.
“When I heard President Ford say there were no forces left in
southeast Asia, I was sitting over there,” he said. He ran
missions as part of a four-person team into enemy territory, using
his stealth skills to seek out suspected POW camps. Flannigan said
his service often required surviving for several days with limited
supplies under extremely dangerous conditions. “Out here it’s
a piece of cake. Out there, it’s life or death,” Flannigan
To date we are unaware of any effort by
the Park Rapids Enterprise to retract this story to correct the
California Vietnam Veterans Memorial
One can not blame the Sacramento Bee
for publishing its story about Kenneth Nelson, unofficial guardian
of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Read the story HERE.)
CBS Channel 13 in Sacramento had previously done a glowing story
on Nelson on September 3, 2007, the legendary former Marine
with multiple combat tours in Vietnam had been recognized by
the California State Senate. In fact, the Library of Congress had
a page in the "Veterans History Project" that verified
Nelson's combat service, rank, and other details.
was hard to pin down was just WHAT high awards Mr. Nelson, local
hero to so many in California's Capitol City, was entitled.
According to a feature page on him at the Living Wall (http://www.americasveterans.org/),
Nelson was even a recipient of the Navy Cross.
It's hard to blame a reporter then, for
writing such a glowing story about a man who had actually only
served in the Marine Corps for TWO months--there were just TOO
MANY viable sources to vouch for his credibility, and official
records were almost impossible to find. Impossible because Mr.
Nelson had told the Library of Congress, Reporters, and others
that he was born in 1949. In fact, he was born in 1957 and his two
months of USMC training were not until 1977, two years after the
Vietnam War ended. All those medals and other claims--well, now it
is obvious. A National Database as called for in HR 666 and would have exposed Nelson a decade ago and saved a lot of
people including a Television Station, the Sacramento Bee, Library
of Congress, Marine Corps League, and thousands of visitors to the
California Vietnam Veterans Memorial a lot of grief.
See Kenneth Nelson's ACTUAL
Jannette Jauregui is a young journalist with a
passion for writing about veterans. Over the last six or so years
she has interviewed dozens in order to share their inspiring
stories. When Jan called me on March 1, 2008, I could tell she was
so discouraged that she might never interview another veteran.
That would be a tragedy, her journalistic interest in preserving
the stories of America's veterans is laudable. It is a shame that
Richard Orozco took advantage of her, lying about his award of the
Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor he was sent to Washington, D.C.
to receive, only to be sent home with the excuse that his
paperwork had been lost. Read Jan's story
but without blame for a young journalist who was conned by the
unbelievable war stories of an aging blind man.
The fact is, while only 42 members of the
U.S. Navy were awarded the Navy Cross for Korean War Actions, most
official Navy sources would be hard pressed to identify even five
of them, much less verify that Mr. Orozco was a fraud.
More Examples To Come