There’s nobody more respected in modern society than a war hero, someone who put it all on the line in service of their country. So it’s not surprising that people try to fake it. In this article, we’ll spotlight ten phonies who claimed to be war heroes only to be exposed as frauds.
Injured veterans deserve the best care that the system can give them, but people trying to scam that system deserve nothing but mockery. Danny Crane spent three months in the Army before returning home to Florida, but once there he set himself up as a decorated soldier who was injured in Afghanistan. He bilked the government for thousands of dollars in medical care and even got a charitable group to fly him to Hawaii on vacation. Once the law saw through his lies, he was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay back the people he’d swindled.
The D-Day Battle of Normandy is one of the most storied in all of World War II, but not everybody who came out of it was what he or she appeared to be. For decades, Howard Manoian was one of the most celebrated citizens of the French village of Chef Du Pont. During that battle he’d parachuted into France, engaged the Huns and been shot in the hand and legs by a German machine gun. He won the country’s highest honor for bravery and was loved by all his neighbors. That is, until they discovered that he had been nowhere near the battle, and in fact spent his enlisted time minding a supply dump far away from the action.
Douglas R. Stringfellow
If there’s one thing any politician can tell you, it’s that military service equals votes. So when Douglas R. Stringfellow ran for the House of Representatives in 1952, he made a big deal about his service in World War II, including the brutal torture he’d received behind enemy lines in Belsen Prison that had left him a paraplegic. Now Stringfellow did actually serve in the war, but the whole torture thing was a fabrication – as was the paraplegia! The man could actually walk and just restricted himself to a wheelchair to gain sympathy from the public. When the truth came out, his bid for reelection tanked.
Faking military service can start pretty innocuously. For Australian man Arthur “Rex” Crane, it was a way to maintain a friendship with two real prisoners of war he’d met. Crane claimed to have served behind enemy lines with a volunteer group of anti-Axis freedom fighters before being captured by the Japanese during World War II and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. He was so convincing that he collected a pension for 22 years from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs before being exposed in 2010.
Star of many of Hollywood’s early Westerns, Tom Mix earned himself a tough guy reputation from his war stories, including fighting alongside Teddy Roosevelt in the charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. The unfortunate thing is that Mix was actually an Army deserter who never saw a minute of combat, but the studios had so much invested in his reputation that they helped him fake out the public and even added to his legend with stories about Mix fighting in the Boer War and other conflicts.
Jeffrey Scott Kepler
If you listened to Pennsylvania man Jeffrey Scott Kepler tell you about his military service, he was a former Airborne Ranger who earned multiple medals overseas, including a Purple Heart for being wounded in the line of duty. Kepler used his military background to help him get jobs and impress women back home, as well as receive over $100,000 in medical benefits. Unfortunately, none of it was true. He’d actually been discharged from the Army after just 27 days in 1986 because he couldn’t meet baseline fitness standards. He got a year in jail for his scam.
If you’re going to lie about your military service, it’s probably best not to do it on national television. When Poe showed up on "America’s Got Talent," he claimed that he spent 14 years in the military and was sent home after a grenade attack in Afghanistan left him with a broken back and a brain injury. Unfortunately, Poe (who mostly worked as a supply specialist) was only in Afghanistan for a month and didn’t get injured there. When confronted with his fibs, Poe claimed that “he didn’t know he was lying” and blamed post-traumatic stress syndrome.
In 1998, Donald “Nick” Nicholson moved to Batavia, Ohio and walked into the Clermont County Vietnam Veterans of America post to bond with his fellow soldiers. Nicholson claimed to have been taken captive by the Viet Cong and received multiple medals for the abuse he’d suffered. He was even given the prestigious Distinguished Service Cross. His glory didn’t last, though, as it soon came out that during the war Nicholson had been living in Florida after leaving the Navy and all of his precious medals had been bought from memorabilia dealers.
Ralph Ervin Crowder
Missouri man Ralph Ervin Crowder created a whole new identity for himself just by purchasing a uniform and some medals at an army surplus shop. As Roy A. Toups, he claimed to be a former Navy SEAL who earned the Medal of Honor and now worked undercover for the National Security Agency. His lie was so convincing that he even had his own wife fooled, but when a real Navy veteran saw a photo of him in his ill-gotten medals, he was quickly brought in front of the authorities and made to pay for his transgressions.
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One of the most famous veterans in American history was actually a fraud. Walter Williams was widely known as the last living Confederate Civil War veteran when he passed away in December of 1959 at the spry age of 117. The city of Houston declared a week of official mourning and had a parade in the streets. Only one problem: Williams hadn’t actually fought in the war between the states. When hostilities ceased, he would have been just five years old. Entertainingly enough, the previously recognized oldest Confederate veteran, John Salling, was also a fraud!