Not So Brave

Richard Blumenthal, Xavier Alvarez, and More Who Faked Military Service or Honors (PHOTOS)

From Adm. Jeremy Boorda to Bill Hillar, see veterans (and wannabe vets) who fabricated military careers or accomplishments.

AP; AP; Zuma

AP; AP; Zuma

Richard Blumenthal, Xavier Alvarez, and More Who Faked Military Service or Honors (PHOTOS)

The Supreme Court recently voted to overturn the Stolen Valor Act, which prohibits a person from falsely claiming, orally or in writing, that he or she has received a military award. From Adm. Jeremy Boorda to Bill Hillar, see veterans (and wannabe veterans) who fabricated military careers or accomplishments.

Stephan Savoia / AP Photo

Richard Blumenthal

Despite having never served in the Vietnam War, Richard Blumenthal, freshman U.S. senator from Connecticut and former attorney general of the state, has a habit of speaking about the war as though he’d been on the frontlines. At a 2010 ceremony in Connecticut honoring war vets and senior citizens, Blumenthal threw people for a loop when he suddenly spoke of “the days that I served in Vietnam.” He later apologized for his slip of the tongue, but it wasn’t his first. At a 2008 ceremony, he praised the audience for paying tribute to soldiers, noting that Americans hadn’t always done so. “I served during the Vietnam era,” he said. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.” Really? Public records say Blumenthal obtained at least five military deferments between 1965 and 1970, which allowed him to get an undergraduate degree from Harvard and ultimately led him to serve in the Nixon administration.

Defense Department / AP Photo

Adm. Jeremy Michael Boorda

In 1996, the nation’s top Navy officer, Adm. Jeremy Michael Boorda, fatally shot himself hours after hearing that Newsweek wanted to interview him about the naval decorations the CNO had received during the Vietnam War. For many years, Boorda had worn a combat decoration, a “V” for valor, on two of his medals. But not long before his death, he had stopped wearing the insignia. A senior navy official had told Newsweek that Boorda’s own aides had told him he wasn’t eligible to wear the V. Tragically, the interview never took place.

Nany Palmieri / AP Photo

Joseph Ellis

Call it veteran envy. Pulitzer prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis became the subject of scandal when, in a 2000 interview with the Boston Globe, he lied about serving in the Vietnam War in 1965 as a leader and paratrooper in Saigon. He also maintained that he had been active in the civil rights movement, another claim that turned out to be a fabrication. Interestingly, after receiving his doctorate from Yale in 1969, Ellis served not in Vietnam but as a history professor at West Point until 1972.

Colorado Springs Police / AP Photo

Richard Strandlof

Rick Duncan was a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps and the recipient of numerous distinctions, including a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. He also was a fabrication of Richard Strandlof, who used his fake identity to meet politicians, and to found the Colorado Veterans Alliance. Upon being charged under the Stolen Valor Act, Strandlof argued that lying in itself is not illegal—and won. A district court ruled the act under which Strandlof was charged "facially unconstitutional" on the ground that it violates the First Amendment.

Zuma / Newscom

Xavier Alvarez

Alvarez was elected to a minor public office in California in 2007, having claimed in his campaign that he had won the Medal of Honor. After alleging that he "got wounded many times by the same guy", he was charged under the Stolen Valor Act. Alvarez, who has never been in the military, took his case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in its decision on United States v. Alvarez, ruled the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional—and the Supreme Court agreed, tossing the law. In their ruling, the high court wrote that the law violated the First Amendment, although they did note the law has "substantial justification."


Brian Creekmur

Creekmur lied about being a decorated Navy SEAL, even decorating his house with memorabilia—including a trident. He took it a step further than others, serving as a regular CNN correspondent, based on his supposed expertise, for combat stories. He fooled even veteran reporter Soledad O'Brien. It turns out Creekmur’s entire biography was stolen from a real ex-SEAL, Steven Matulewicz.

Army Times

Bill Hillar

This guy makes Don Draper look like a novice. For more than 10 years, William G. Hillar successfully portrayed himself as a 28-year veteran of the Army Special Forces, using his purported knowledge of counterterrorism in training sessions for federal agents and police officers. Hillar also claimed to be an expert on human sex trafficking and drug trafficking. Apparently a Liam Neeson fan, he told people that the thriller, Taken, was based on his life and his daughter’s kidnapping. He concocted the fake identity in 1998 and was paid at least $171,415 by the FBI, local police, and universities for giving speeches on his areas of expertise until he was arrested in January, 2011. “It’s very difficult to admit to myself that I’m a fraud,” Hillar said after pleading guilty in a Baltimore court. Hillar had in fact served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1962 to 1970, and claimed that he visited Arlington Cemetery on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. But the rest was all a fantasy. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Bernard Johnston III

Johnston entered the Army Reserve as a sergeant at the Fort Rucker aviation station. The problem? He got the job after claiming a history in the Marine Corps, when the only military training he had was attending the first half of a 12-week candidate course for college students who want to join the Marines. After the Army figured out it had let a man with virtually no training in a leadership position, Johnston was sentenced to six months in prison