Military Roll of Valor Act of 2007

From the News Story Archive

November 20, 2005

 

'I'm tired of the facade'

By Kevin Craver

Werner "Jack" Genot is a broken man, far from his longtime community standing as a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran.

Few people in town are unaware of his military record. The 71-year-old Marengo alderman fought with the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the Corps' heroic stand at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, and he spent 10 months and 10 days as a prisoner of war before escaping during a joint raid by U.S. and South Korean forces.

What most everyone does not know, however, is that every bit of the tale is false.

The Chosin action is but a small part of the tale. Genot proudly has told his buddies that he received a battlefield commission from famous Marine Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller. Genot, as his tale goes, went on to serve as a translator and an interrogator in Vietnam. After joining the Marine Reserve, he retired in 1972 as a captain. He received a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, which he proudly wore on his Marine Corps League uniform and on parade. With this fictitious background, Genot became the countywide face of Toys for Tots, a Marine Corps Reserve program he started locally to get Christmas presents to needy children, 21 years ago.

Newspapers and teachers over the years have called on Genot to share his experiences, most recently with the 230th birthday of the Marine Corps. He lamented during a Nov. 10 interview that his health would keep him away from the McHenry County Marine Corps League ball two days later at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn, an annual bash held by a band of brothers with which he still had claimed proud fellowship.

But he no longer is a member of the group. This is because no record exists that he ever fought in Korea. No records exist that he ever was a prisoner of war or that he was decorated for courage under fire. In fact, no record exists anywhere of a Werner J. Genot ever having served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

On a cloudy afternoon, sitting at his coffee table in his Marengo home, eyes bloodshot and fingers nervously tapping at a cup of black coffee, Genot confessed that he had spent decades living a lie.

"I'm tired of this BS," Genot said as his oxygen machine whirred in the corner.

"I'm tired of the facade, the fakeness. It's going to ruin what little life I have left, but so be it if that has to happen."

After several interviews addressing a lack of records on file and numerous factual holes in his military record, Genot said he first planned to spend the Friday interview backing up his record with a forged DD Form 214, or certificate of discharge. But he said guilt finally pressured him to come clean.

"I was going to try to lie to you," Genot said across the table. "I'm not a super-religious person; I'm not going to mislead you. But I believe in my God, I go to church, and I know what I've been doing was wrong."

Genot said he did serve in the military, but not as a Marine and not in Korea. He joined the Army in 1953, the year the Korean War ended, and was stationed in Europe, first in Salzburg, Austria, and ended up as a radio specialist in Mannheim, Germany. It was there that the 19-year-old Genot got a taste for alcohol, which became an addiction with which he would struggle for the next three decades.

He received a less-than-honorable discharge in 1956. It was then, returning to McHenry County, that the myth of Jack Genot the war hero was born.

Like many tall tales, Genot said his started in area bars. Every story of bravery or toughness had to be topped, and eventually, the lies snowballed into a reputation.

Genot now knows that his reputation led to the misleading of thousands and a distorting of history.

He has spoken to thousands of schoolchildren and adults over the years for Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The Northwest Herald has run no fewer than 13 stories since 1999 quoting him as a decorated veteran.

"You can't imagine how sorry I am for what I did, how sorry I am for what I've done, how I misled people," Genot said as his voice broke.

The McHenry County Marine Corps League first launched an investigation in November 2003, after Genot's granddaughter told a member that his war record was bogus, State Commandant Mike Ruffner said.

Ruffner said Genot's credentials were so impeccable in the community that no one thought of double-checking them when the league formed six years ago.

"When we first started the Marine Corps League, we had all the members come down, and we then checked DD 214s," Ruffner said. "He had such a reputation of being a POW and a Marine that nobody ever doubted him.

"Every time I had a stone to turn over, it said 'wrong answer.' It's Pandora's box."

The league filed a Freedom of Information Act with Headquarters, Marine Corps, and enlisted the help of the P.O.W. Network, which requested Genot's records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Neither had any record of Genot based on his date of birth, service number, or Social Security number.

Interviews with military experts, record keepers, and Chosin veterans further revealed pieces in a puzzle of deception. Genot's name does not appear on Marine Corps lists of medal winners, Vietnam advisers, or the annual published list of Marine Corps officers. He never had filed for Department of Veterans Affairs compensation, which is odd for a longtime prisoner of war.

But second to the lack of records are the historical holes in Genot's stories. No Marine ever received a battlefield commission during the Korean War, said Dan Crawford, head of the Corps' historical branch, and Donald Von Roosen, past commander of the National Order of Battlefield Commissions.

Also, Puller commanded a different regiment, making it highly unlikely that he would have granted a Marine from another regiment the extremely rare honor. Puller would have had such authority over Genot when he became assistant division commander in January 1951 - one month after Genot allegedly was captured. Puller's tour in Korea ended in May, five months before Genot's alleged escape.

Experts who helped investigate Genot said they would not be upset if he were an isolated case. However, phony veterans are becoming a chronic problem, especially with the military in such high regard after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Chuck and Mary Schantag originally formed the Skidmore, Mo.-based P.O.W. Network to save the stories of prisoners of war for posterity. They now spend an estimated 80 percent of their time investigating bogus veterans.

"History, no matter what, is being changed, from Vietnam to Korea to World War II, with all the phonies now here," Schantag said.

The Marines' heroics at Chosin are a natural draw for fabulists, said Ernie Wotring, president of the Army chapter of the Chosin Few.

He has received at least six requests this year to look into phonies.

"You know, if we had all the guys who claimed they were there, we would've won the thing," Wotring said.

Although Genot said he felt relieved to admit the dark secret, he dreaded facing the consequences. Beyond the effects on Toys for Tots and the community, forging government documents and falsely wearing military decorations are against the law.

Genot said he would destroy the awards he never earned, and he would remove the Purple Heart license plate on his pickup truck that he acquired through the bogus DD Form 214. Genot said he hoped that the steps, although small, would help redeem him a bit in the eyes of his friends, constituents and a generation of children.

"I see adults today who I remember as kids, who say, 'Mr. Genot, I remember when you delivered toys to my door,' " Genot said. "They're going to be devastated, and rightly so."

Genot said he would step down as alderman if the voters ask, but he would like to "stay on and keep doing great things."

He considers his work with Toys for Tots and serving the community as an alderman a redemption of sorts.

"I don't want to go meet my maker with this big lie on my chest," he said.

Genot continued to sit at the coffee table after the interview ended. The easy part was admitting the lie to a reporter.

The hard part would be telling his wife.

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