of the facade'
By Kevin Craver
"Jack" Genot is a broken man, far from his longtime
community standing as a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran.
Few people in town
are unaware of his military record. The 71-year-old Marengo
alderman fought with the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division,
during the Corps' heroic stand at the Chosin Reservoir during the
Korean War, and he spent 10 months and 10 days as a prisoner of
war before escaping during a joint raid by U.S. and South Korean
What most everyone
does not know, however, is that every bit of the tale is false.
The Chosin action is
but a small part of the tale. Genot proudly has told his buddies
that he received a battlefield commission from famous Marine Gen.
Lewis "Chesty" Puller. Genot, as his tale goes, went on
to serve as a translator and an interrogator in Vietnam. After
joining the Marine Reserve, he retired in 1972 as a captain. He
received a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, which
he proudly wore on his Marine Corps League uniform and on parade.
With this fictitious background, Genot became the countywide face
of Toys for Tots, a Marine Corps Reserve program he started
locally to get Christmas presents to needy children, 21 years ago.
teachers over the years have called on Genot to share his
experiences, most recently with the 230th birthday of the Marine
Corps. He lamented during a Nov. 10 interview that his health
would keep him away from the McHenry County Marine Corps League
ball two days later at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn, an annual
bash held by a band of brothers with which he still had claimed
But he no longer is
a member of the group. This is because no record exists that he
ever fought in Korea. No records exist that he ever was a prisoner
of war or that he was decorated for courage under fire. In fact,
no record exists anywhere of a Werner J. Genot ever having served
in the U.S. Marine Corps.
On a cloudy
afternoon, sitting at his coffee table in his Marengo home, eyes
bloodshot and fingers nervously tapping at a cup of black coffee,
Genot confessed that he had spent decades living a lie.
"I'm tired of
this BS," Genot said as his oxygen machine whirred in the
"I'm tired of
the facade, the fakeness. It's going to ruin what little life I
have left, but so be it if that has to happen."
interviews addressing a lack of records on file and numerous
factual holes in his military record, Genot said he first planned
to spend the Friday interview backing up his record with a forged
DD Form 214, or certificate of discharge. But he said guilt
finally pressured him to come clean.
"I was going to
try to lie to you," Genot said across the table. "I'm
not a super-religious person; I'm not going to mislead you. But I
believe in my God, I go to church, and I know what I've been doing
Genot said he did
serve in the military, but not as a Marine and not in Korea. He
joined the Army in 1953, the year the Korean War ended, and was
stationed in Europe, first in Salzburg, Austria, and ended up as a
radio specialist in Mannheim, Germany. It was there that the
19-year-old Genot got a taste for alcohol, which became an
addiction with which he would struggle for the next three decades.
He received a
less-than-honorable discharge in 1956. It was then, returning to
McHenry County, that the myth of Jack Genot the war hero was born.
Like many tall
tales, Genot said his started in area bars. Every story of bravery
or toughness had to be topped, and eventually, the lies snowballed
into a reputation.
Genot now knows that
his reputation led to the misleading of thousands and a distorting
He has spoken to
thousands of schoolchildren and adults over the years for Veterans
Day and Memorial Day. The Northwest Herald has run no fewer than
13 stories since 1999 quoting him as a decorated veteran.
imagine how sorry I am for what I did, how sorry I am for what
I've done, how I misled people," Genot said as his voice
The McHenry County
Marine Corps League first launched an investigation in November
2003, after Genot's granddaughter told a member that his war
record was bogus, State Commandant Mike Ruffner said.
Ruffner said Genot's
credentials were so impeccable in the community that no one
thought of double-checking them when the league formed six years
"When we first
started the Marine Corps League, we had all the members come down,
and we then checked DD 214s," Ruffner said. "He had such
a reputation of being a POW and a Marine that nobody ever doubted
"Every time I
had a stone to turn over, it said 'wrong answer.' It's Pandora's
The league filed a
Freedom of Information Act with Headquarters, Marine Corps, and
enlisted the help of the P.O.W. Network, which requested Genot's
records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
Neither had any record of Genot based on his date of birth,
service number, or Social Security number.
military experts, record keepers, and Chosin veterans further
revealed pieces in a puzzle of deception. Genot's name does not
appear on Marine Corps lists of medal winners, Vietnam advisers,
or the annual published list of Marine Corps officers. He never
had filed for Department of Veterans Affairs compensation, which
is odd for a longtime prisoner of war.
But second to the
lack of records are the historical holes in Genot's stories. No
Marine ever received a battlefield commission during the Korean
War, said Dan Crawford, head of the Corps' historical branch, and
Donald Von Roosen, past commander of the National Order of
commanded a different regiment, making it highly unlikely that he
would have granted a Marine from another regiment the extremely
rare honor. Puller would have had such authority over Genot when
he became assistant division commander in January 1951 - one month
after Genot allegedly was captured. Puller's tour in Korea ended
in May, five months before Genot's alleged escape.
Experts who helped
investigate Genot said they would not be upset if he were an
isolated case. However, phony veterans are becoming a chronic
problem, especially with the military in such high regard after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Chuck and Mary
Schantag originally formed the Skidmore, Mo.-based P.O.W. Network
to save the stories of prisoners of war for posterity. They now
spend an estimated 80 percent of their time investigating bogus
matter what, is being changed, from Vietnam to Korea to World War
II, with all the phonies now here," Schantag said.
The Marines' heroics
at Chosin are a natural draw for fabulists, said Ernie Wotring,
president of the Army chapter of the Chosin Few.
He has received at
least six requests this year to look into phonies.
"You know, if
we had all the guys who claimed they were there, we would've won
the thing," Wotring said.
Although Genot said
he felt relieved to admit the dark secret, he dreaded facing the
consequences. Beyond the effects on Toys for Tots and the
community, forging government documents and falsely wearing
military decorations are against the law.
Genot said he would
destroy the awards he never earned, and he would remove the Purple
Heart license plate on his pickup truck that he acquired through
the bogus DD Form 214. Genot said he hoped that the steps,
although small, would help redeem him a bit in the eyes of his
friends, constituents and a generation of children.
"I see adults
today who I remember as kids, who say, 'Mr. Genot, I remember when
you delivered toys to my door,' " Genot said. "They're
going to be devastated, and rightly so."
Genot said he would
step down as alderman if the voters ask, but he would like to
"stay on and keep doing great things."
He considers his
work with Toys for Tots and serving the community as an alderman a
redemption of sorts.
"I don't want
to go meet my maker with this big lie on my chest," he said.
Genot continued to
sit at the coffee table after the interview ended. The easy part
was admitting the lie to a reporter.
The hard part would
be telling his wife.