Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Another Poser exposed, Dick Stoops

July 25th, 2010 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

The Kansas City Star, a paper I use to read daily when I was stationed up there, put out a great piece out on the whole Stolen Valor issue and some of the great folks working behind the scenes to catch these fake military posers. I, like everyone else believes in the first amendment, but posing as a military hero isn’t “Free Speech” in my book.  By using the rational of Judge Blackborn in CO, I could therefore throw on a black robe and pretend to be a Federal Judge and go give a talk to the bar. How about buying a fake badge at a Police memento convention, making up a set of fake creds that said “FBI” and getting discounts on my gun buys as a “LEO” (Law enforcement Officer) while wearing my suit and badge?  OK, that’s a bad example because there is a law out there that prohibits you from pretending to be a Federal Judge or Agent of the Government and you will be arrested with jail time. 

 How about dressing up like a firemen or police officer?  You’d still get arrested on some charge.  So with that in mind, why isn’t someone arrested for dressing up like a hero in the military and adopting their records? This is the whole basis behind the Stolen Valor law but now with the recent spats of posers arrested, all they seem to receive are light probation sentences. At least they are forever shamed on the internet if someone looks them up.  That’s about it.  Enjoy this piece…

S/F   Taco 

Kansas City Star

July 25, 2010 

Pg. 1

 Watchdogs Labor To Expose Liars About Military Exploits

 By Lee Hill Kavanaugh, The Kansas City Star

 Army Capt. Joshua Howard, a physician’s assistant at Fort Riley, Kan., ran across the newspaper story online about a Korean War veteran who was to be inducted into the Kansas National Guard Hall of Fame.

 In the accompanying photo, the veteran wore a khaki shirt covered with ribbons and medals, black bars and stripes.

 The story told how this veteran had received the military’s No. 2 and 3 awards for valor — the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star — along with two Purple Hearts, one pinned on by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And how he had been a prisoner of war in Korea for 5½ months.

 But the more Howard read, the more “those medals and his account of it all didn’t add up,” he said.

 He called friends to ask about the different medals. He e-mailed the photo and story. He wanted to know.

 “I work with guys here who have PTSD, soldiers who have lost legs and stuff, and they don’t have these super-cool medals and badges,” Howard said.

 Within days, the veteran’s face stared out from several websites, with other veterans questioning whether he was a real hero or a fake.

 It is a question that is being asked more and more these days.

 “It’s an epidemic of military fakers and liars out there,” said Mary Schantag of Branson, who has made it her job to expose fake POWs.

 So far this year, Schantag and her retired Marine husband, Chuck, have received requests to check almost 8,000 names to verify POW claims. Last year, they ran more than 14,000 names.

 The Schantags, along with Vietnam veteran Doug Sterner of Virginia, are members of the 22-member Stolen Valor Task Force, a group of veterans and military researchers across the country who share information to expose military impostors.

 Self-taught experts, they collect tidbits of information every day from dozens of sources; file Freedom of Information requests; and gather notes from general orders, historical accounts and prisoner of war records. They scrutinize the material, cross-check it with other sources and build databases.

 Their goal is to have a searchable repository of all earned medals of valor. A place where the public can read stories about heroes who otherwise might be forgotten.

 Every one of the task force members knew a real hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

 And every one has vowed to stop those who would steal another’s valor.

 It was task force members who pushed Congress to approve the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which strengthened existing laws covering the unauthorized wearing of or laying claim to military decorations. The act made it a crime to lie about one’s military service.

 The law is being challenged on First Amendment free speech grounds in several states. It was upheld in California. But last week in Colorado, a federal judge dismissed a case against a man who falsely claimed he was a Marine captain who had been wounded while serving in Iraq and had received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

 U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn said the law unconstitutionally punished speech based on its content without a compelling government interest to justify the restriction. The decision set precedent only in Colorado, but it may open up more challenges nationwide.

 Out of the thousands of people who have lied about or exaggerated their service, Sterner said, only about 55 have been prosecuted for false valor claims, and most have not received stiff punishments.

 Last month, federal prosecutors agreed to drop a Stolen Valor charge against Timothy J. Watkins of Kansas City, North, if he completed 18 months of pretrial supervision without a problem. As part of the diversion agreement, Watkins agreed that he had lied about his military history and receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

 Some may look at these cases and ask: What’s the big deal? Who cares if the stories aren’t true? What harm is done?

 But many veterans are outraged every time a military faker is exposed. They see a crime against the honor of those who really did charge up hills, wipe out machine-gun positions, drag wounded buddies to safety and endure terrible wounds — or even death.

 Every valor award comes at a very high cost, said John V. Lilyea, a retired Army sergeant first class in West Virginia who runs the website This Ain’t Hell, But You Can See It From Here.

 “We’re so tired of these guys who say they’re heroes and they’re really fakers,” he said.

 Lilyea said he has had to tell grieving families that a loved one could not be buried with military honors because he had lied about his service.

 “If we catch them while they’re alive, they have a chance to explain it and maybe redeem themselves,” he said.


 The Schantags, who split their time between homes in Branson and Skidmore, Mo., founded the POW Network ( ).

 The nonprofit is not affiliated with the government, nor is it paid for its work. Mary Schantag said the operation functions solely on donations. It is a labor of love for the couple.

 And there is plenty of labor to do.

 Twenty years ago, the Schantags considered two dozen names a year to be a high number. Now they get about three dozen requests a day.

 On certain days of the year, the phone rings nearly nonstop.

 “The three worst days for us are the days after Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day,” Mary Schantag said.

 Prime days for reminiscing about past glories — real or not.

 When the Schantags started this work in 1989, their goal was only to find missing former POWs. But something happened along the way.

 “We started finding out about a lot of phonies and fakers,” she said.

 Sterner believes in heroes. He believes in their ability to inspire. He believes their stories should be told, remembered and treasured.

 But the military, while keeping miles of paper records, had never put them into a searchable online database.

 So Sterner set out to create his own. Over the past 16 years, he has compiled in one database all the information he could find on the recipients of the military’s top three awards for valor: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross (including the Navy Cross and Air Force Cross) and the Silver Star.

 It is slow, slogging work. Last year, with donations not keeping up with costs, he nearly had to close it down. But the Military Times newspaper saw its value and bought the database from him. Sterner is now its main curator.

 The database — at — is easily searchable, with every Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross citation from every war the U.S. has fought in. (The compilation of Silver Stars is not yet complete.)

 The process of tracking down military records is daunting. Some information is buried in the files of an entire unit instead of those of individuals. Some records were lost in a 1973 fire in a military records center in St. Louis.

 But Sterner has made a home in cyberspace for the really big honors. Future generations can read what their loved ones did, Sterner said, “so we won’t forget.”

 A few years ago, Sterner helped a Kansas City woman confirm her deceased father’s heroism. Twenty-three years after his death, the family received a funeral for him with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

 But what Sterner started as a way to help the public remember military heroes has become the go-to resource for verifying or disproving accounts of valor.

 “I have never found Doug’s site to be inaccurate,” said Tom Cottone Jr., a former FBI agent in Washington, D.C.

 Cottone, who retired two years ago, spent 14 years ferreting out military impostors, focusing mostly on those who falsely claimed to be Medal of Honor recipients. Sterner, he said, “is extremely careful and diligent when he puts someone’s record on the site.”

 And if someone’s name is not there, that says a lot, too.


 The Korean veteran’s story, published in April in a Kansas newspaper, illustrates how fast an account can spread, catching the eyes of veterans and watchdogs within days.

 The story told about the veteran’s pending induction into the Kansas National Guard Hall of Fame, an honor for which he had been nominated by city officials and others in his hometown.

 He is a local hero, representing veterans in parades and the honor guard, playing taps, folding the flag to present to widows at funerals.

 He also is in poor health, his family says. (The Kansas City Star is not publishing his name because he has not been charged under the Stolen Valor Act.)

 The story included, word for word, two sentences from the framed medal citations the veteran displayed in his office.

Watchdog groups and other veterans pored over the photograph, scrutinizing the medals. Some filed Freedom of Information requests to corroborate or expose his claims, searching archives and the National Personnel Records Center and reports for general order numbers from the citations for his Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.

 No one found any evidence that the Kansan had received the awards he claimed, or been a POW, or even seen combat. His records indicated he was in Korea about a month.

 “This guy … had so many red flags I couldn’t believe that no one had questioned him before,” Mary Schantag said.

 “The first thing everybody noticed was that (he) refused to show proof of his records. Most guys, despite being reluctant, will show what they did because it means so much. … It costs so much in human terms to get these awards.

 “He showed it only to his family and the friends who went into his office … until he was (to be) inducted into the hall of fame.”

 Other veterans said they asked the Kansan to release his military records with his privacy sections redacted. It would still show his awards and honors.

 He refused, they said.

 Officials at the Guard Hall of Fame said the veteran told them that he had asked the military to not put his honors on his records because he did not deserve them.

 That made veterans doubt his story more.

 Meanwhile, in Topeka, Doug Jacobs, board president of the Guard Hall of Fame, started his own investigation, calling and writing military offices, trying to get the elusive records to “prove this man’s innocence,” he said.

 Days later, Jacobs received a phone message from Arlington, Va.

 The voice was that of Sterner. The Star had asked Sterner to run through his database two sentences from the veteran’s Distinguished Service Cross, or DSC, citation.

 From the 812 DSC narratives from the Korean War, the computer made one hit: a word-for-word match with a passage describing one man’s heroism.

 And it was not the Kansas veteran’s.

 It was that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard J. Hartnett, who had gone back to Pennsylvania after the war and died in 2003.

 The Star then called back the reporter who had written the original story. The reporter had taped the hourlong interview and had photocopied the medal citations from the nominee’s office wall.

 As The Star began to read Hartnett’s entire citation, the other reporter gasped. Except for the name, date and location, they were identical.

 Sterner then ran the Kansan’s Silver Star citation through the same screening process. Again, just one hit.

 This one came from another DSC citation. The recipient: Army Cpl. Fabian Nieves-Laguer. He was a member of the famous “Borinqueneers,” the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico.

It took Sterner’s computer 14 seconds to make the match.

 “Gosh, he didn’t even bother to write his own wording,” said Sterner. “This shows so clearly the value in a database that documents these awards.

 “Without it, this would have taken months or even years to find, and that’s if we would have ever found it.”

 The Star tried to talk to the Kansas veteran, but he did not return calls.


 In her home in Jonestown, Pa., Delores Hartnett, widow of Richard Hartnett, listened as The Star told her how another man appeared to have adopted her husband’s medal citation as his own.

 She was speechless at first.

 Her husband rarely talked about his service in Korea, she said. But after the Korean War, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard, serving for 25 years. He once told her that he did what he had to do to serve his country.

 The couple had five children and seven grandchildren. She does not visit his grave on Memorial Day because “he’s in my heart every day, every moment,” she said.

 But she can imagine what her husband would have said about a case of stolen valor.

 “To steal someone else’s heroics, what they fought for, and watched friends die for, this is absolutely pitiful … pitiful, pitiful, pitiful!”


Jacobs of the Guard Hall of Fame said recently that the Kansas veteran’s family has withdrawn his nomination. He will not be inducted into the hall.

 The hall has changed its rules regarding information that emerges after a nominee’s induction has been announced, Jacobs said. Before, there was no provision to prevent a nominee who had been accepted from being inducted.

 Mary Schantag said she has forwarded information about the veteran to the FBI. Not just his name, but a folder with everything the Schantags gathered.

 “That’s standard for us. It’s against the law to wear a medal that you didn’t earn because they come at such a high human cost.

 “You know, if these people told just one lie, they might get away with it. But they’ve got to be better and more than everyone else.

 “What they fail to understand is that just by serving and doing what they were told to do, whether they saw combat or sat behind the scenes in an office, is extraordinary.

 “That’s good enough to be a hero.”

 A harrowing narrative of bravery

 Here is an excerpt from Richard J. Hartnett’s Distinguished Service Cross citation:

 Sergeant First Class Hartnett distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Chorwon, Korea, on 29 September 1951.

 On that date, Sergeant Hartnett’s company was assigned the mission of attacking a numerically superior hostile force occupying well-fortified hill positions.

 Commanding the lead squad of this assault, Sergeant Hartnett had maneuvered his men to within a few yards of the enemy emplacements when a heavy volume of machine-gun fire halted their advance.

 Unhesitatingly, Sergeant Hartnett charged directly into the intense enemy fire, hurling grenades and firing his rifle. His aggressive action neutralized the hostile emplacement, but his attack also attracted the attention of the enemy troops occupying another bunker who immediately directed their fire against the friendly force.

 Sergeant Hartnett single-handedly assaulted the emplacement, this time destroying its weapon and killing the occupants. Observing another enemy position, he fearlessly charged a third time and eliminated it.

 His courageous actions were directly responsible for the collapse of the enemy defenses and enabled his company to take its objective with a minimum of casualties.

 The psychology of a great temptation — embellishment

 We are all likely to embroider personal stories to make ourselves appear a bit brighter or funnier or more interesting than we think we are, said John Wisner, a psychiatrist at the University of Kansas Hospital.

 “That’s human nature. It’s a tremendous human temptation,” he said.

 But people cross the line on deception when they can’t understand the value of telling the truth, or they get caught up in living a story that isn’t true, Wisner said.

 “Oftentimes people do it for love or esteem from other people,” he said. “There are people who can’t allow themselves to be perceived as who they are and have to make things up. They feel empty and hollow as who they are and have to embellish.”

 Military service is a particularly attractive way to boost one’s image, Wisner said.

 “It implies machismo and bravery. For the average American, military service is the one way available to show valor.”

 Wisner was on staff at the Kansas City VA Medical Center more than 20 years. He met many who acted heroically and were wounded in the line of duty. Rarely did he find someone who exaggerated what he had done.

 “If they talk about it, they do it with a degree of humility and even reluctance,” Wisner said.

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