Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

VA secretary yet another official who can’t get his military story straight

It seems like you can’t open a newspaper or visit a news website without finding out that another public figure has lied about his military experience or exposure to combat.

The latest is Veterans Affairs secretary Robert McDonald, who admitted that he told a homeless veteran in January that he had served in the Army’s Special Forces. CBS News recorded the exchange.

(See the story from here. Caution, there’s a forced video that you have to stop.)

In the Army, the Special Forces denotes service in an elite unit such as the Green Berets. Membership in such a unit is only attained after completion of very difficult and very challenging specialized training. Many are called, few are chosen.

According to the story, as it was repeated over and over, “McDonald, former Procter and Gamble CEO, served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and completed jungle, arctic and desert warfare training, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge and Senior Parachutist wings, the VA added, noting that McDonald, who retired as a captain, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal after leaving the service.”

Stop lying, elites!
Listen to me, rich people and other jerks who want to claim the mantle of the military and combat veteran. You have to stop stealing valor. I realize you are rich and therefore perfect, and want others to believe you are great, but going around spreading lies is becoming insulting. People who have served in the military, especially before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, might feel inferior because their military service did not include wartime, and maybe they worked in an ordinary job while in the military, but exaggerating your experience is a disgrace.

McDonald is a lying piece of shit
McDonald should lose his job for what he did. This lying has to stop somewhere.

It isn’t a “misstatement,” Mr. McDonald. It is a plain and flat-out lie. If I did it, I’d be punished severely. You will get away with it. It’s because you are a piece of shit, Mr. Secretary, that you are even allowed to continue to draw a paycheck. I hope you get cancer, and die horribly. It’s what you deserve for stealing the valor of so many others.

I always knew that McDonald would not do well as VA secretary. Almost from the start, it was obvious that the VA bureaucracy was going to run him, and not the other way around. He’s lied about firings at the VA, and continues to lie. He was trained to lie as an Army officer and is true to his training.

President Barack Obama needs to force McDonald out.

Elites aren’t the only liars
One of the saddest things to see is when a long-respected member of the community has a sudden downfall. In the years since we first began the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, honors have been showered upon veterans and it’s common for veterans of Vietnam to say they’re finally getting their due for their service.

So it hurts when, as Tom Lyons of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported recently, the news comes out of another lying veteran. For years, Larry Altenburg paraded around at every patriotic gathering, sporting Marine Corps dress blues with the rank insignia of major and a Silver Star on his chest. The Silver Star is awarded for valor, and is the third-highest decoration you can get. (Second are the Army, Navy and Air Force Crosses. At the top is the Medal of Honor.)

Altenburg also wore a Purple Heart, which he said was for a wound when he was an enlisted man in Vietnam.

“He says it was decades later, in the inactive reserves, that he became a major,” Lyons reported.

That should have been a red flag right there, because no one gets a commission in the inactive reserves, so far as I know. The inactive reserves is for people who have signed up but have not reported to basic training yet, or for people who have reached their end of active service date but not the end of their obligation. When I got my parents to sign me into the Marines in December 1977, I was signing up for four years of active duty and two years of inactive reserves. My time in the inactive reserves lasted until August 1978, when I reported to Parris Island, and began again in August 1982, when I left active duty. I was in the inactive reserves until December 1983. At that point, I received in the mail my discharge certificate and pin.

Until that point, in the event of a national emergency, I could be called back into active duty.

What probably erased any suspicion in the minds of many folks was that Altenburg was a regular at patriotic events and government meetings, and also the head of a Charlotte County chapter (Detachment 756) of the Marine Corps League. The detachment’s website still lists him as the commandant.

But he no longer is associated with the organization at any level, Lyons wrote, “and is barred from all league activities and meetings.”

Questions were raised as to the veracity of Altenburg’s story, an investigation was undertaken and the outcome was that he – at the least – did not earn a Silver Star. He claimed he was wearing it in honor of another veteran who had earned the medal.

“All of his other medals and his history as a marine wounded in Vietnam are true, he said,” Lyons wrote. “But he declined to give any details, or even broad information, about his service in Vietnam.”

A check of the records, which can take several weeks, is underway. Who knows what it might reveal?

It happens elsewhere, too
At the Lakeland Ledger and Winter Haven News Chief, where I am on the copy desk, we’ve had to deal with a very few who feel they have to add to their own military story, and the results have been pretty sad.

As the Ledger reported on May 14, 2014 in the story “Man’s Image to Be Removed From Polk Bus After Questions Raised About Military History”, a man named Ed Cameron claimed he was wounded in Vietnam and reached the rank of major. He was a member of the VFW and American Legion, but refused to produce his discharge papers.

Cameron had been quoted often about his service in the Marine Corps and on various social issues regarding the military. Apparently, he had moved to Arizona and tried to join the VFW there, they called the Lake Wales chapter and learned that he had never provided discharge papers.

As it turned out, Cameron had actually left for Parris Island and was discharged honorably before graduation. The medals he wore at events were his father’s World War II medals.

As for the law …
When the Stolen Valor Act was passed, it was hailed as a means to stop lies. It upsets people that the law was overturned by the Supreme Court, but ultimately the logic was sound: you can’t regulate private conversations and tall tales.

Naturally, if the stories are concocted to gain VA benefits and other financial services the government offers veterans (health care, etc.) the government has recourse, but the only consequence of lying to the VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans or other veterans groups, or the local newspaper, is shame.

That may not be enough for many people, but it has to suffice.

It’s sad to see someone brought low by their own lies. Anyone who has served in the military, even if it’s in a humble job where they had no chance or opportunity to be in combat or earn ribbons and medals, has a right to be proud of his or her service.

But you can’t and shouldn’t go around making up stories and exaggerating your accomplishments. It dishonors those who did much more, and those who were wounded or died in the service to the country.

I just wish we could get those who are tempted to lie to think twice before they destroy their lives.


February 25, 2015 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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