I have noticed that a quick way to build credibility in the UFO field is to put a military rank in front of your name. The higher the rank, the more credibility. The problem here is that some claim a rank they never held, some claim a rank even without military service, and some claim a rank simply because it strokes their egos.
Claims of military service slice across all areas of life. Some of it seems harmless enough, but what about those veterans who actually served? Don’t they deserve the respect they earned, and why should they share it with those who wished they had served but hadn’t?
A couple of years ago I happened to be reading the obituaries in the local newspaper and came across one that mentioned the man had been a Vietnam Veteran. Something wasn’t right about that and I finally realized what it was. The man had been born in May 1957, which meant he would have turned 18 a couple weeks after Saigon had fallen in April, 1975. I knew that men and women signed up for service before they turned 18 and that a person could enter active duty at 17 and a half. But, I also knew that it was policy not to send anyone into combat until he had turned 18. American troop involvement on the ground in Vietnam had ended several years before Saigon fell and that only specially trained troops were there in 1975.
All this is a long-winded way to say that the man wasn’t a Vietnam Veteran because he simply wasn’t old enough. There seemed no reason to expose his claims now. He was dead and the family had enough grief. They didn’t need some stranger telling them that their son and husband had been lying about his Vietnam service.
This man was not alone in inventing his tales of Vietnam and military service. I met a man who claimed to be a Marine sniper who had engaged in "wet work." He said that he had been in both the Air Force and the Marines and he had the discharge papers and other documents to prove it. The problem was that he had never seen a day of active duty in the Air Force other than a six weeks summer training session required of nearly all Air Force ROTC cadets before graduation.
His Marine experience was even thinner. When the Air Force reduced the size of its various components, all Air Force ROTC cadets were given the choice of opting out, taking a commission and spending 90 days on active duty, or waiting for the Air Force to find a pilot slot for them on extended active duty. This fellow opted out and signed up for Marine Officer Candidate School with a promise that he would be offered aviation training upon completion of that school. He decided he didn’t want to do that, so, without a day of service in the Marines, he was given an honorable discharge. He had not been overseas, he had not been trained as a sniper, and he had never been in combat.
Gerald Anderson, he who claimed to have seen the crashed flying saucer on the Plains of San Agustin, appeared on the scene after Unsolved Mysteries ran a segment on the Roswell UFO crash case. Anderson claimed that he had been there in 1947 and to prove that he was a credible witness said that he had been a chief of police and he had been a Navy SEAL engaged in secret missions in Southeast Asia. According to various records, Anderson had been the only police officer in a small Missouri town so his exaggeration that he was the chief of police was unimportant. In fact, it was more of a joke than an actual claim.
The record about his Navy service is less clear. He might have been in the Navy, though no one has confirmed that to this point, but it is clear that he was not a Navy SEAL and had not engaged in secret missions in Vietnam or Southeast Asia. According to the Web site real Navy SEALs established, Anderson had not been a SEAL.
In fact, as we examine the rolls of those who have claimed military service, we find, literally, thousands of fakers. Men who dodged the draft in the 1960s claim Vietnam service. Others were in the military during the war but were not "in country" related tales of horrific combat. One of the pretenders was Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa who claimed to have been a fighter pilot in Vietnam. The truth was that he had ferried aircraft into Saigon’s Ton Son Nhut air field, but he had stayed no more than two or three days each time. He engaged in no combat missions and his official senate biography which claimed such service now suggests he was a "Vietnam Era vet." If nothing else, Harkin did set foot in Vietnam. Some of the fakers weren’t even in the service, let alone in Vietnam but tell detailed stories of their fights against the communists.
This might seem like a modern phenomenon. In today’s world people are struggling for some sort of identity and Vietnam Vet is as good as any other. But, looking back into history, we find that there were always those willing to steal the glory from those who deserved it. Look at any significant event in our history and there are those who have claimed to been involved.
During World War II, D.S. "Sonny" Desvergers, was a Marine who had some of the most unbelievable war experiences ever claimed. According to a document found in the Air Force’s Project Blue Book files, "Once during a birthday party, Desvergers stated that during the war he was a Marine and had been on sea duty on a battleship. He stated that one day he was contacted by an Officer of Naval Intelligence who asked him to go on a secret mission. He was taken to Washington and given a briefing by a group of Colonels then taken to California to go to school with some more Colonels from Washington. He was flown to the Pacific to map Jap[anese] held islands that were unchartered (sic). He stated that he was taken to the island under cover of darkness in a PBY aircraft along with his surveying cryptography equipment and that as they approached the island a life raft was inflated and thrown out the waist window of the PBY. The PBY landed in the dark in unchartered waters next to the raft [which makes no real sense because it would have been safer to land and then inflate the raft] and put Desvergers and his equipment into the raft. With the cover of darkness he paddled up to the beach and buried all his equipment. Desvergers stated that at the beginning of the story the island was 7 x 3 mi. long and at the end, it was 25 x 50. After about two weeks of hiding from the Jap[anese] all day and digging up his equipment and surveying at night, he had mapped the island. In many cases he had brushes with Japanese Officers and once during his two weeks he was lying in some bushes hiding during the day when the Jap[anese] walked by so close to him they could touch him. When the job was finished he had set up a rendezvous with the PBY and it landed at night. However, the Jap[anese] saw the airplane land and knew that he was on the island. He inflated his rubber raft and started paddling toward the aircraft but the Japanese started to fire at him and sunk his life raft, however, in the raft he had a Gibson Girl radio with a balloon for an antenna. He quickly inflated the balloon, crawled on it and flowed out to the PBY. As he was being picked up by the aircraft, people were reaching out of the hatch helping him. During the time the Jap[anese] were shooting at them and several of the sailors who were helping him were badly wounded."
This is the type of story that Hollywood would make into a movie and that is the real problem here. It is exactly the kind of story Hollywood would invent for a movie because it would never happen in real life. First, this smacks of being just another war story. Secret missions are not developed in that fashion and they don't select the soldiers, or in this case a Marine, in such a haphazard fashion. These missions are given to highly trained personnel who have expertise that is critical to the successful completion of the mission. They are not given to PFCs who have no special training or expertise and who seem to be out of touch with reality.
But more importantly is the service record of Desvergers. Here is a man who was in the Marines during the Second World War. It was a time when the expansion of the various services, including the Marines, demanded huge numbers of recruits. The fighting in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific were grinding up men in terrible numbers. Yet, according to the record, Desvergers had been tossed out of the Marines with a less than honorable discharge in 1944. As noted in the Blue Book record, "He had been booted out of the Marines after a few months for being AWOL and stealing an automobile." He apparently went from lone hero to disgraced Marine in a very short time.
This is not the only discrepancy found. He had told many friends at various times that he had been a PFC test pilot in the Marines and had flown every type of naval and Marine fighting aircraft. Of course, prior to the war, the Marines did have "flying sergeants," that is, enlisted men who were pilots. They had no PFC test pilots, however.
Nor was the Civil War immune from its fakers. The last three survivors of the Civil War, on the Confederate side, appear to have been lying about their service. According to many newspapers, and supported by the documentation available, the last authenticated survivor of the Civil War was a Union soldier, Albert Woodson, who died in 1956.
There are, however, Web sites, histories, magazine articles and newspaper reports that give the honor of the last of the Civil War soldier to die to Walter W. Williams of Houston, Texas. Although there were a few who were skeptical, no one bothered to check the record until William Marvel wrote about it in Blue & Gray magazine in 1992. Marvel used old census records, the existing military records from various archives and other sources of documentation. He learned that the Confederacy had little in the way of records about who served, though they had some. Williams’ name appeared in none of those documents, but, according to Marvel, that didn’t mean he hadn’t served in some capacity. The search couldn’t end at that point.
Williams, according to what he told reporters, friends and family later in his life, was born in 1846, but later suggested it had been 1842. That meant he was somewhere between 112 and 117 when he died in 1959. He had, again according to what he said, been a resident of Mississippi when he enlisted in Tennessee in a Texas regiment that was serving in Virginia. Possible, of course, but not likely. He later claimed that he had served with Quantrill’s Raiders in Missouri and Kentucky.
Marvel found Williams on a census record from Hawamba County in 1860 on which he was listed as a five year old boy. That meant he was born, not in 1842 or 1847, but in 1855. Marvel found that in every census he gave a birth date that was consistent with being born in either late 1854 or early 1855. The census of 1910, which carried a column to designate those who had served in the Civil War, contained no such designation for Williams. He would have been, at best, eleven when the war ended.
However, in 1932, Williams applied for a Confederate pension. At that point he began to exaggerate his age. The best evidence available, and it seems to be conclusive, is that Williams, who also went by the name of Walter G. Williams, was not a veteran of the Civil War.
In fact, in the Blue & Gray article, Marvel wrote, "Every one of the last dozen recognized Confederates was bogus. Thomas Riddle was only five when the Confederacy collapsed, and Arnold Murray only nine. William Loudermilk, who insisted he fought through the Atlanta Campaign at 16, did not turn 14 until after Appomattox. William Bush and a reputed Confederate nurse named Sarah Rockwell were not 20 years old in the summer of 1865, but 15."
Marvel pointed out that most of these imposters were in it for the money and that it was "a common scam." They tacked a few extra years on their ages, claimed service in some "obscure militia unit" and then could claim a state pension.
The real problem here is not that these people have claimed to be something they are not, but that they are creating an oral history of events that didn’t happen. In today’s world, with the explosion of Web sites, small press book publishers, hundreds of magazines, and now television documentaries, these faked tales are told time and again and become part of our history. On more than one Web site, including an educational site, John Salling is listed as the last of the Civil War soldiers to die, though the documentation proves otherwise. Why should Salling be given the recognition that belongs to Albert Woolson?
The problem is even worse for the Vietnam War. While claims to have served are not, in a historical context, all that important, it is the oral tradition that these fakers leave behind. The impression, based on these stories is that the American Army, and American soldiers, were out of control in Vietnam, killing anything that moved whether a combatant or not. The tales of these fakers are used to prove that point over and over, and have been used to justify murders in the United States.
B.G. Burkett, who has exposed more fakers than any other researcher or Vietnam Vet, reported that time and again, his information about fakers was met with scorn. Typical of these was the story of Robin Wright, who claimed to be a highly decorated SEAL and who, during his third tour in Vietnam was in an aircraft crash in the Vietnamese jungle between the beach on the South China Sea and the Da Nang airfield.
A rescue helicopter dropped a paramedic and then both Wright and the medic were hauled up. As Wright reached the helicopter, he was hit twice, in the back. For his heroics, either on this mission, or on others, Wright claimed that he had been awarded the Navy Cross, the United States’s second highest medal for valor, a couple of Silver Stars, the third highest, and, at the very least, one Purple Heart.
Articles about Wright were published in Guideposts, a religiously oriented magazine and in Panama City, Florida News-Herald. Larry Bailey, a real SEAL who had retired and was writing freelance articles, suggested that the story told by Wright and published by the magazine and newspaper was filled with technical mistakes that a true SEAL would not have made. Bailey’s research showed that Wright’s military record proved that he had not trained as a SEAL. His records did show that he had served in Vietnam, but earned only the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. He had no Navy Cross, no Silver Stars and no Purple Heart.
Years in the future, as people, for whatever reason, begin to research the Vietnam War, they’ll come across these stories of faked heroism or rampant American atrocities in Vietnam, or thousands of others like them, and assume that they are true. Why should they doubt the magazines or the newspapers? They were only printing what they believed to be the truth. And, of course they’ll be believed because the person relating the tail could put a military rank in front of his, and in a few cases, her name.
Without some sort of balance, the legacy of the faker will overshadow the accomplishments of those who served. Stories of atrocities and murdered women and children make for much more exciting reading than the stories that most Vietnam Veterans can tell. They served their country, sometimes by merely stringing communications wire, or building barracks, or refueling aircraft. They spent their year in Vietnam doing a needed job that was no more exciting than working for the telephone company or building houses or pumping gas. They did all that was asked of them, and the little glory they gained is being stolen by those who inflate their records, or who never set foot in Vietnam or who never served.
And now the war in Iraq, not even concluded is dogged by those who claim participation but have none. One man in a letter to me said that he had been in northern Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion of that country. Another man wrote a series of articles detailing American atrocities that never happened. He hoped to snag a book deal so that he could continue to spin his false tales. He didn’t care that his lies were making it tougher for the soldiers in the field.
As a sad sidebar to this, I wrote an article and sent it to be published in the magazine of one of those veteran’s organizations. They rejected it and I was surprised, until I thought about it. Of course, I was challenging some of their membership and membership is the key to such an organization. They weren’t as worried about the credentials of those belonging as they were worried about maintaining the membership numbers and keeping the dues coming in.
So, how does all this relate to UFOs and the paranormal? Well, how many of those running around in the UFO field are claiming a military background or a military rank actually earned the distinction? Who can demonstrate that background and who cannot? Maybe it’s time, once again, for those claiming a military rank to prove that they truly deserving of that rank. If a man claims to be a colonel, then he should have to prove that he holds that rank in a recognized military organization. If he can’t do that, or dodges the question, then everything else he says must be looked at carefully.
Philip Corso said that he was a colonel but his records clearly show that he never climbed above lieutenant colonel. He said that he thought he had been promoted when he retired, but that didn’t happen. An honest mistake? Possibly. If nothing else, Corso did serve in the military and had climbed to field grade rank.
But others just make it up, append the rank to their names and then insist on calling themselves by that rank. They invent organizations to justify their claims, but never offer any proof that the claims are true.
In this world all too often that somehow gets overlooked. It’s too easy to accept the information as fact, even when it flies in the face of logic. The point here is to merely suggest that we look at this a little more closely. If a man lies about his rank, his educational background, his accomplishments, then how much of his research can we believe.
And that, I guess, is the real point here. A man’s real background may not be all that important to understanding what he says, but his track record is. If he can’t be trusted to tell the truth about that, what can he be trusted to tell us that we wish to know?