"The passage of the Stolen Valor Act was an important first step in ensuring that we preserve the honor of those who served. I ask you to take the next step and make their sacrifices public. Having a readily accessible and public database will not only give the tools to law enforcement to prosecute fraudulent claims but it will properly recognize those who have been honored with these citations."
Congressman John T. Salazar, D-Colorado

Congressman Salazar Introduced HR 666 in the 111th Congress 

A Roll of Honor Needed For
Accuracy in Media Stories

Throughout the year, and more-so near Veterans Day and Memorial Day, local media focus on home-town heroes and their stories. This is GOOD--assuming that the stories they tell and the heroes they highlight are legitimate. Unfortunately, such is not always the case. A reporter doing a story on science can quickly verify if someone earned a Nobel Prize, or covering a celebrity they can quickly verify if the Hollywood star earned an Oscar. But when it comes to military awards, even such high decorations as the Navy Cross or Distinguished Service Cross, there is little way to expediently verify whether a purported recipient is legitimate or not. When the subject of their story claims to have served three tours of duty in Vietnam and earned SIX Purple Hearts, the reporter is usually left with few options:
    
1)  Submit a FOIA and hold their story for 4 - 12 weeks in hopes the records can be found,
      2)  Take the interviewee at their word and publish the report, true or false,
      3)  Leave out any mention of combat and combat decorations,
      4)  Say "To hell with it, this isn't worth the bother" and quit writing about veterans. 

I have read heart-rending Veterans Day news stories about men who suffered as Prisoners of War, only to discover that the individual never even served in the military. Some have claimed America's highest military decorations when a review of their records (obtained by those who investigate such claims after the story was published) reveal the person never served in combat.

The easiest thing for REAL veterans and TRUE heroes to do is BLAME THE REPORTER--"You should have done your homework!" Fact is, with the current state of military records, it is almost impossible for a reporter to do much by the way of fact-checking. The Roll of Valor demanded by HR 666 would provide reporters much of what they need to insure that their stories of service and valor are indeed, accurate.

Perhaps the WORST thing that can happen for our TRUE heroes and REAL veterans is for the media to quit writing stories about their service and sacrifice. But if the current trend continues it may soon look like this: 
     * Reporter writes inspiring story...
     * Reader questions claims and asks a researcher to look into it...
     * Subject of story is found to be a fraud...
     * Newspaper publishes retracton...
     * Reporter is embarrassed by public exposure of their mistake...
     * Reporter decides never to write another Veteran's story!

Some who read this may no doubt think, "If researchers can obtain records to verify or refute the claims of such bogus heroes, so too can the reporter." The fact is, most of these claims are refuted after a check of records by Mary Schantag of the POW Network--an expert in the field. What comes easy (sometimes not THAT easy) for her, is only possible because SHE knows the system. Frankly, few people even in the VA or military circles have the knowledge to do what Mary does, much less the average newspaper reporter.

The below are actual examples of such "Stolen Valor" published by media and subsequently found to be bogus. In every case cited, a National Roll of Valor would have provided a means to fact-check before the story was published. (Some are linked to reproductions of the actual story.)


ODON JOURNAL (September 5, 2007)
HEADLINE: John Collier earns second Silver Star for valor in Iraq

Who can blame the newspaper in the small town of Odon, IN, from wanting to make a big deal about this local hero. Not only was John Collier the first person to earn TWO Silver Stars in Iraq (to date only ONE person has legitimate received TWO), he was a hero holding the highest enlisted rank (Command Sergeant Major). His other decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, 2 Bronze Stars and 4 Purple Hearts. In the photo published with his story he is also seen wearing the distinctive badge awarded those few privileged to be a Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Click here to see the news story)

In fact, Mr. Collier served from 1982 - 1988 as a Vehicle Mechanic, mostly as a reservist, and NEVER saw combat or served as a Tomb Guard. His only decoration is an Army Service Ribbon. See his official records HERE. Had this been available to the reporter in Odon, IN, this story would never have been written.

OROVILLE MERCURY-REGISTER
HEADLINE: Local veterans return to Vietnam

The October 5, 2007 story about three Oroville, California, veterans making a trip back to Vietnam together was a touching one. Among the three friends was Mike Fraser, "A special forces medic who was assigned to SAR (Search and Rescue) and SOG (Study Observation Group). He was also at the siege of Khe Sanh for 77 days and in the Ashau Valley...He survived two tours in Vietnam; 1966-67 and then 1968-69....He was wounded twice in the war and sustained other injuries from shrapnel from mortar blasts and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade). The SAR missions included rescuing downed pilots and some missions had them flying in Thanksgiving dinners to soldiers. When Fraser was medi-vacing injured soldiers during his first tour, he was shot by an AK-47. During his second tour, he was evacuating Marines out of a triple canopy jungle when his helicopter came under fire. "It had taken all kinds of fire and it was loaded and took off without me," Fraser explained. He was left on the ground and later a helicopter returned with a STABO harness that was lowered to pick him up. As he was being hoisted up to the helicopter, he was shot by an AK-47. The STABO harness was dangling with Fraser under fire and the helicopter was 3,000 feet off the ground. He was transported to the hospital and had only 17 days left to go to finish his tour of duty."

Reporter Paula M. Felipe refused to believe a phone call from me that there were serious problems with Mr. Fraser's story. While he was on the trip we requested Fraser's records but they still had not come back by the time Fraser returned and Ms. Felipe wrote a follow-up article noting: "Fraser said the trip didn't heal him. 'We didn't get to go north where I had been during the war because of the weather, so it wasn't as meaningful to me. We do plan to go back and visit the north next time and see where I spent two years during the war period. It was nice to be there and have no one shooting at you and not have to sew anyone up or give anyone morphine,' Fraser said."

One week after that follow-up story we received Fraser's records. He did serve in the Air Force, as a Veterinary Assistant. According to his records he never even served in Vietnam. The newspaper was either too disinterested or too embarrassed to publish a retraction, but did at last expose Fraser's fraud in a February 27, 2008 story when Fraser was charged in Federal Court for his lies.

velasquez_lg.jpg (313526 bytes)For Veterans Day 2004, the Range News in Willcox, Arizona, wanted to put a positive spotlight on one of the local heroes in the Global War on Terrorism. Gilbert Velasquez graced the front page in a photo showing him holding a plaque with numerous medals including the Silver Star. On the inside story Mr. Velasquez told the reporter that he had also earned the Distinguished Service Cross, which had been buried with his "God Fathers."

Mr. Velasquez exorbitant tales, some of which are below, were ultimately proved to be a total fabrication. Because this happened in 2004, before the Stolen Valor Act, he could not be charged with a crime. (He is HOLDING the medals, not WEARING them, and false claims were not illegal before the Stolen Valor Act. velasquez_retraction.jpg (186560 bytes)The newspaper was highly embarrassed and tried to sweep it under the carpet. A very small retraction was printed and the Editors took their ire out on the reporter, who could not be justly faulted. Mr. Velasquez had displayed medals and paperwork to document his experiences and heroism during the interviews. The reporter was demoted from his desk and placed in the Classified Ads department of his newspaper. Some quotes from Mr. Velasquez' story:

“After he lost three men in Somalia, ‘I had to go to my men’s family and tell them it was a training accident,’ Velasquez said. ‘After I got out of the Army, I told the families exactly what happened. One of the wives slapped me and I had to regain my composure because I was crying with her.”

Velasquez never told his story to a reporter nor to a Hollywood producer who came knocking after Somalia. But he talked this week because “It is important for the public to know some of the hardships we really go through as soldiers.”

(About the movie Blackhawk Down) “I declined to talk to Hollywood,” he said, “The military didn’t want us to talk about it. I did not give any interviews. It still hurts me bad to think about Somalia, but I’ve made my peace with it.”

“The Rangers took a lot of blame because Delta was not a well-known force back then and wasn’t supposed to officially exist,” he said. “Although it was considered a failed mission, there were many heroic efforts. I considered it a failure of intelligence. Our failure came when we lost friends over there.”

Hollywood said the warlord was captured and killed several years later. Velasquez said, despite the stand-down order, that it was just 48 hours later. “If the movie had said we slaughtered the warlord and his family and aides, it wouldn’t come off too well. We know he was taking food and killing young kids. We didn’t hesitate to kill him, his wife, his mistresses and even his children.”

(RE OIF Service) “One of my commanders told us to grab 15 soldiers and take the city of Ballad,” he said. “That was an impossible mission and we took our first casualty. My sergeant (his mentor who had trained Velasquez) was killed in front of me. I had enough and told our men to back off. We got help from the Third Division and within 24 hours we killed 75 Iraqis and set up curfew in Ballad.”

**Velasquez continued to describe his role in the killing of Ouday and Quesay Hussein, and in the capture of Sadaam…”As soon as I saw his eyebrows I knew we had Hussein”, earning a second Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross. The story concludes by noting:

“One woman told me that the military taught me to be a killer,” said Velasquez, who professes to probably killing at least 85 of the enemy. “People like me will always be willing to give their lives for their country. I told her if you don’t like what I stand for, pack up and get out.”

To Read the FULL Story Mr. Velasquez provided to the reporters, click HERE to download the full article as a MS WORD Document. WARNING: Do NOT read immediately after eating--it may cause you to throw up!
It was intended to be an inspiring, patriotic story for Veterans Day. Sadly, it was based upon falsehoods. Patrick Flannigan's TRUE records are HERE. Of course, secret missions and classified records are ALWAYS a good line to take advantage of a reporter and garner a little publicity!

Veteran’s medals arrive after 23 years
James Bordewick Park Rapids Enterprise
Published Friday, November 09, 2007

Recognition for Patrick Flannigan’s military service may have come a bit late, but it was no less deserved. Lance Cpl. Flannigan served as a special forces Marine stationed in southeast Asia between 1974 and 1976. While serving, he earned a Silver Star, among other decorations, for his role in missions to evacuate the US embassy in Saigon and the recovery of the merchant ship Mayaguez. He received his medals 23 years later, after the Department of Defense declassified other missions he was in.

Flannigan grew up in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. As a child, he recalled getting into scrapes often. “In the military, the people who excel are the ones who look for trouble. I’ve always looked for trouble,” he joked. After high school, Flannigan trained as an S2 Reconnaissance officer for the Marines, specializing in mines, booby traps, camouflage and stealth movement. When Saigon fell in 1975, he was the pointman for the machine gunners during the rooftop evacuation of the US embassy. “My job was to watch the ladder and to make sure if you weren’t an American, you weren’t on the ladder,” he said.

Following the fall of Saigon, his unit in the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines was sent to recover the US merchant vessel Mayaguez, captured by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. The 2nd Battalion assaulted the island of Koh Tang in the Bay of Tonkin May 14 and 15, 1975. According to Flannigan, his unit of about 80 Marines encountered several hundred Khmer Rouge. Fifteen Marines died and 40 were wounded in the operation, with another three missing and presumed dead.

Flannigan’s transport helicopter was shot down early on in the assault, but the helicopter managed to land safely. Flannigan helped the captain scuttle the vessel by setting explosive charges. “I gave the captain the button, and when he pushed it, the explosion lifted it 10 feet off the ground,” he recalls.

Flannigan was one of the wounded in Koh Tang, the last official military action of the Vietnam War. He was shot while carrying the body of a fallen squad leader. “Marines don’t leave their dead,” he explained. Flannigan also participated in prisoner of war rescue efforts in Laos and Cambodia after the US officially pulled out troops.

“When I heard President Ford say there were no forces left in southeast Asia, I was sitting over there,” he said. He ran missions as part of a four-person team into enemy territory, using his stealth skills to seek out suspected POW camps. Flannigan said his service often required surviving for several days with limited supplies under extremely dangerous conditions. “Out here it’s a piece of cake. Out there, it’s life or death,” Flannigan said.

jamesb@parkrapidsenterprise.com

To date we are unaware of any effort by the Park Rapids Enterprise to retract this story to correct the record.

nelson_loc.jpg (100296 bytes)Phony Hero Guards
California Vietnam Veterans Memorial

One can not blame the Sacramento Bee for publishing its story about Kenneth Nelson, unofficial guardian of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Read the story HERE.) CBS Channel 13 in Sacramento had previously done a glowing story on Nelson on September 3, 2007, the legendary former Marine with multiple combat tours in Vietnam had been recognized by the California State Senate. In fact, the Library of Congress had a page in the "Veterans History Project" that verified Nelson's combat service, rank, and other details.

nelson_nx.jpg (103116 bytes)What was hard to pin down was just WHAT high awards Mr. Nelson, local hero to so many in California's Capitol City, was entitled. According to a feature page on him at the Living Wall  (http://www.americasveterans.org/), Nelson was even a recipient of the Navy Cross. 

It's hard to blame a reporter then, for writing such a glowing story about a man who had actually only served in the Marine Corps for TWO months--there were just TOO MANY viable sources to vouch for his credibility, and official records were almost impossible to find. Impossible because Mr. Nelson had told the Library of Congress, Reporters, and others that he was born in 1949. In fact, he was born in 1957 and his two months of USMC training were not until 1977, two years after the Vietnam War ended. All those medals and other claims--well, now it is obvious. A National Database as called for in HR 666 and  would have exposed Nelson a decade ago and saved a lot of people including a Television Station, the Sacramento Bee, Library of Congress, Marine Corps League, and thousands of visitors to the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial a lot of grief.

See Kenneth Nelson's ACTUAL RECORDS.

Jannette Jauregui is a young journalist with a passion for writing about veterans. Over the last six or so years she has interviewed dozens in order to share their inspiring stories. When Jan called me on March 1, 2008, I could tell she was so discouraged that she might never interview another veteran. That would be a tragedy, her journalistic interest in preserving the stories of America's veterans is laudable. It is a shame that Richard Orozco took advantage of her, lying about his award of the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor he was sent to Washington, D.C. to receive, only to be sent home with the excuse that his paperwork had been lost. Read Jan's story HERE but without blame for a young journalist who was conned by the unbelievable war stories of an aging blind man.

The fact is, while only 42 members of the U.S. Navy were awarded the Navy Cross for Korean War Actions, most official Navy sources would be hard pressed to identify even five of them, much less verify that Mr. Orozco was a fraud.

More Examples To Come

 

 

 

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