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(forwarded in from Jennifer Martinez)
Larry Bailey, Chuck and Mary Schantag, Steve Waterman and others are on a
nationwide mission to expose those who exaggerate or falsely claim military
By Dan Fesperman Sun Staff Originally published July 5, 2001 Times are tough
for fake soldiers.
Latest casualty: Distinguished historian Joseph J. Ellis, exposed as a phony
Vietnam veteran, besmirching an otherwise brilliant career as an author and
Other notables among the recently fallen: a Pennsylvania schools
superintendent who claimed to have been a decorated Navy SEAL; a retired
police chief in Ohio who told stories of Green Beret heroism and brutal
captivity as a prisoner of the Viet Cong; a leader of Wal-Mart's executive
security detail who claimed to have been not only a SEAL but also a master
killer, supposedly dispatching one of his 16 victims with a rolled-up
newspaper; a major league baseball manager who told his players hair-raising
tales of Marine missions in Vietnam.
Impostors, one and all.
Then there's the Baltimore construction worker, less celebrated but just as
bold in his claims, having told a string of girlfriends during the past few
years that he's a SEAL - a member of the elite corps of Navy commandos
trained for sea, air and land operations - and a naval intelligence
operative. Wearing a wide variety of uniforms and medals, he boasts of
heroic exploits and three combat wounds while finagling loans and other
favors from one unwitting admirer after another.
Government records show that he, too, is an impostor.
So who keeps shooting down these non-warriors, exposing their lies and
In an increasing number of cases - thousands, in fact - it is people such as
Larry Bailey, Steve Waterman, Chuck and Mary Schantag, and a dozen or so
others running a linked network of databases and Internet "gotcha" sites.
Together these dogged folks, many of them retired soldiers, keep tabs on fake
POWs, fake Medal-of-Honor winners, fake SEALs, fake Green Berets and just
about any other brand of military pretender you could imagine.
"It's not so much the guys in a bar saying, 'Yeah, I was a SEAL,' that we're
explains Waterman, a Navy veteran from South Thomaston, Maine, who wrote the
book, "Just A Sailor."
It's the ones who use their tales to advance their careers and their image
that anger him most, he says, duping bosses, girlfriends, the news media and
sometimes even the Veterans Administration, collecting benefit payments and
free medical service.
This driven core of debunkers is responding to what Chuck and Mary Schantag's
site at pownetwork.org calls "a nationwide epidemic."
"Every time we expose a new one, it seems like we get reports of two or three
says Mary Schantag, of Skidmore, Mo. She and her husband have turned up 668
fake POWs since they checked out the first claim in 1998.
"It just keeps growing and growing and growing," she says, so much that the
fake warriors sometimes outnumber the real ones.
Retired Navy Captain Larry Bailey, an ex-SEAL from Mount Vernon, Va., who
helps run a database for the Web site cyberseals.org, says about
7,000 phony SEALs have been identified during the past six years. In
reality, roughly 10,000 people have completed either SEAL training or, prior
to the founding of the SEALs in 1962, the Navy's "frogman" training, which
began during World War II. As of May, there were 2,220 active duty SEALs.
"About 19 of every 20 people we get inquiries about are fake," says Bailey,
whose site lists 622 impostors in alphabetical order under the heading, Meet
some of the most despicable people on Earth."
"I'm a bleeding heart Robin Hood sort of guy, and I just hate when people lie
about these things," he says. "And a lot of these people are taking
advantage of somebody."
The reasons for their fury are often more emotional, too.
"You read about a guy who dies, someone who was either poisoned by Agent
Orange or was an alcoholic," Waterman says, genuine veterans who never got
over their wounds or their nightmares of combat. "And then this other guy's
out there in a fake uniform parading in front of The [Vietnam Memorial] Wall,
and you just want to rip his lungs out."
Or, as Mary Schantag puts it, "They'll steal the stories [of heroism], but
they're not stealing the nightmares, or stealing the pain."
So, if you falsely promote yourself as some sort of war hero long enough, one
of these people may eventually track you down. Once they do, they'll haunt
you forever, and in the age of e-mail and cyberspace they've achieved a
deadly efficiency in spreading the word.
In Pennsylvania, Panther Valley district schools superintendent Raymond
Aucker lost his job when he was exposed as an impostor who'd been boasting
about his exploits as a SEAL, and the sleuths made sure his subsequent
employers found out as well.
A federal judge sentenced Aucker last October to two years probation and 200
hours of community service at a veterans hospital in Iowa for falsifying his
"It is a consuming thing," says Waterman, 55, who works in the industrial
security business and does "wannabe" sleuthing in his spare time. "It's sort
of like becoming an anti-war demonstrator, except it's on the other side of
the spectrum. It gets to be personal."
Army Airborne veteran Michael Anderson even participates in "busting phonies"
from his home in the Philippines, saying by e-mail that he has "worked on
roughly 40 cases and am currently working on 3 concurrently ... I spend 20
30 hours a month working cases and researching material." He spent nine
months on one case alone, sending more than 350 e-mails in the process.
The payoff comes in moments such as the one in August 1999, when Bailey and
two other ex-SEALs accompanied a BBC camera crew to the front door of Wayne
Higley, a Stoneham, Mass., man who, among other boasts, had said he was a
SEAL who'd won a Navy Cross and three Purple Hearts, sometimes showing off
his "combat scars." His act had been convincing enough to make him a featured
speaker at a 1994 ceremony at the Women's Vietnam Memorial in Washington,
which landed him an interview on "Good Morning America."
So, the SEALs showed up at his apartment to demand some answers. With the
BBC filming and Waterman snapping photos, Higley stood on his doorstep while
one of his indignant visitors proclaimed, "Wayne, we are your worst nightmare
come true, three real SEALs and a TV crew."
Bailey has been busy lately tracking down details of a Baltimore case,
37-year-old construction worker Timothy Warren Bradford, who he says claims
to have won several medals and to have been wounded in several wars while
fighting as a SEAL. He has also said he is a Naval Intelligence operative,
and a graduate of the U.S, Naval Academy. All three claims are false.
But they've helped gain favors and affection from a string of women, Bailey
says. "He is truly a predator," Bailey says. "He beds these women, he takes
their money. He gives them all kinds of problems."
The Sun spoke to nine people, including several former girlfriends, who've
listened to Bradford's boasts and seen his various uniforms and medals. Each
asked that their names not be used, saying they feared his temper.
According to the military records section of the National Personnel Records
Center in St. Louis, Bradford's only actual time in the armed forces was a
seven-and-a-half month hitch in the Marine Corps when he was 18. He was
discharged in December 1982 - nearly 19 years ago - before completing
infantry training school at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The center can't release the
nature of his discharge without his permission.
Bradford did not respond to messages left for him. George M. Oswinkle, a
Baltimore attorney who has represented Bradford in the past, said he also
could not reach Bradford.
Federal law prohibits the unauthorized wearing of military uniforms or
medals, though the statutes are seldom enforced. The greatest penalty for
most impostors is public humiliation.
That was the case with the most recent notable example, historian Joseph J.
Ellis, who in the past few years had won not only a Pulitzer Prize but a
National Book Award for books on Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.
Ellis had been telling "war stories" of his Vietnam experiences to his
students at Mount Holyoke College for several years, as well as to
interviewers. It turned out he'd never served there, and Boston Globe
reporter Walter Robinson exposed his deception after the paper received a
Robinson won't say who the tipster was.
Why do people fabricate such heroics, especially those who are already famous
in their own right? Bailey had a long chat with a clinical psychologist
about that very question.
Some impostors, he was told, simply have antisocial pesonality disorders.
They're the ones who see lying about military heroics as the best way to
exploit others for personal gain. Others are simply trying to make up for
low self-esteem by burnishing their image, figuring they won't get caught.
"Basically what it amounts to,"
Bailey says, "is a guy who for some reason has a feeling of inadequacy."
Ellis, the most recent and perhaps most stunning example, has offered an
apology but no public explanation. But he may have inadvertantly offered a
clue to his motives during an recent online interview conducted before the
When asked about what Thomas Jefferson did during the American Revolution,
Ellis said he didn't serve in the army, even though he was young enough.
That later became a source of embarrassment for Jefferson, Ellis added,
saying, "When he runs for office later on, they keep calling this moment back
to him that he didn't serve.
It would be like now if somebody missed service in Vietnam, and basically
being told, 'Where were you when it was time to be counted?' "
TONY NEWCOMB- (SOA-570L) (SFA-450L) (AFIO-5746L) (POVA#168)
State Outreach Coordinator, VETERANS LEADERSHIP PROGRAM of ILLINOIS
"The only easy day was yesterday" - Special Ops - "You have never lived
have almost died. For those that have fought for it, life has a special
protected will never know."