By Captain Gene Thomas Gomulka
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When I recently wrote an article entitled "Impersonating a Navy SEAL," I had no idea of the number of individuals who fraudulently mislead innocent people to believe they are highly decorated service members. In response to my article, one Navy SEAL wrote that I should have more vociferously denounced as "despicable" and "dishonest" those who falsely claim to have served and suffered in the defense of our country. He went on to say that "those who have not served in any capacity are not capable of feeling or sensing the great pride that we have in our accomplishments and reputation, nor of recognizing the tremendous injustice that is done by those who falsely co-opt our accomplishments as their own."
A very important resource that attempts to expose "phonies and wannabees" is the P.O.W. Network (www.pownetwork.org) that provides links dedicated to identifying and exposing frauds like the man who impersonated a Navy SEAL. While the Network’s mission is education on the P.O.W. issue and maintaining the history of Vietnam POWs and MIAs, exposing phonies has become an unexpected and sad result of attempting to complete the Vietnam bio project. The Network also provides links to several organizations that are dedicated to uncovering those who make particular false claims (e.g., Medal of Honor or Purple Heart recipients).
With the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of military phonies has increased. Thousands of imposters are identified on the P.O.W. Network because civilian and military law enforcement agencies are not taking steps that lead to the prosecution of these individuals. According to M. Schantag, a P.O.W. Network spokesperson, "most victims are unsuspecting women, many of whose lives are destroyed, savings gone, and self-esteem shattered."
Anyone interested in learning more about the extent of this problem may wish to read Fake Warrior by Henry Mark Holzer. The book aims to "identify, expose and punish those who falsify their military service." According to Holzer, "there is serious problem of fake warriors who act out of a variety of neurotic and psychological reasons, resulting in unacceptable moral, legal, financial and other consequences." He encourages people "to identify the fakers, to make common cause with others who want to do something about the problem, and use the many legal and social tools available to counter this problem."
The problem is also being highlighted in various civilian publications. For example, the May 30, 2005 edition of People magazine featured an article about Eric Cooper who married 7 wives in 10 years. Cooper, who is being prosecuted for bigamy, either posed as a Navy pilot or SEAL in wooing the women into marriage.
Not only do individuals lie about having served in the military, there are also organizations that attempt to extort donations under false pretenses. The P.O.W. Network has posted a warning about an organization by the name of "Let Freedom Ring." According to the warning, while this organization promises "$6,000 grants to war injured soldiers," no soldier has received a penny to date. Chaplains and chapel finance committees involved in the disbursement of religious offering funds should be careful when receiving such fund raising appeals.
Those who suspect that an organization may be guilty of institutional fraud, or that an individual may be fraudulently claiming to have received certain military decorations (e.g. Congressional Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Navy Cross), is encouraged to contact the P.O.W. Network at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columnist and author whose books are available at www.plaintec.net
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© 2005 Gene Thomas Gomulka. All opinions
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