It all started when NFL player DeAngelo Williams gave up his first class airline seat for an elderly veteran and took a picture of the man. It sounds like the beginning of a heart-warming story, but the Internet started buzzing about whether or not the veteran in question, James Wesley Bolden, had actually served in the U.S. military. The answer seems to be yes, but the truth is, as always, kind of complicated.
With so many service members transitioning into civilian life and the ease of technology, the Internet is filled with stories of stolen valor. For various reasons, civilians sometimes find and wear military uniforms. Sometimes these civilians actively attempt to pass themselves off as a veteran, but it doesn’t take much for a true veteran to spot the discrepancies in their uniforms and stories. This usually leads to a video showing an imposter shying away from an irate veteran.
Although it was the picture Williams took that attracted the most views, there's another image, supposedly taken by a Marine who later stopped Bolden and sternly questioned him, pointing out that many of his medals were placed on his uniform incorrectly.
According to WMC Action News, Bolden’s family spoke out for their relative when they caught wind of what was going on. “This was a Marine in every sense of the world,” said James H. Bolden, former Memphis police director and cousin to Wesley Bolden. “That’s almost akin to someone saying you’re not a citizen when you’ve been here in this country and you have represented it well,” H. Bolden said.
H. Bolden claims that Wesley Bolden enlisted in the Marines when he was 17 years old, and went on to serve for 25 years. The reason his uniform may have been out of regulations, according to H. Bolden, is that his 77-year-old cousin suffers from dementia.
Veterans and service members online couldn’t seem to agree on whether or not Bolden was indeed a former Marine. One Internet sleuth could not find his name on Home of Heroes, a website that records the names of medal recipients. In the picture, Wesley Bolden is clearly wearing a Silver Star, but his name does not appear in searches on the Home of Heroes website. But, Home of Heroes clearly states on the front page, “Absence of a name for a Silver Star should NOT be considered evidence that someone did NOT get the Silver Star.”
Guardian of Valor, a website dedicated to rooting out civilian imposters, took it upon themselves to confirm that James Wesley Bolden is indeed a retired Marine. They received records from the Marine Corps that clearly show he did serve extensively, and even participated in combat in Vietnam. However, they were unable to verify whether or not Wesley Bolden had ever received the Bronze Star With Valor or Purple Heart.