The question of course is why? This man had no need to embellish his resume . . . the work he was involved in with the Coast Guard Auxiliary was noble and legitimate . . . why embellish it with fake tin & fruit salad?
Every year they bust out a new one that's been going around like this - guys with standing in the community based on fake medals and fake veteran status. Jim Van Fleet's saga more extraordinary than most because he pulled it off for twenty years in a very public role in a big Navy town, and he got busted during the course of a TV interview. They built him up like its a human interest story, let him lie his ass off then ZING! I never quite saw it done that way before.
They used to get away with it because America is so big and relatively few have served in elite units. The internet has changed the landscape, however. These days we're finding them more & more and busting them out via sites like Veri-SEAL and Stolen Valor.
The craziest episode I'm aware of has to be the case of Admiral Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations back in the early nineties. Boorda was celebrated because he'd worked his way up from enlisted to 4-star admiral - unheard of in the class-conscious Navy.
Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda
A distinguished soldier-turned-journalist. Colonel David Hackworth, busted Admiral Boorda out for wearing false decorations: phony V for valor devices on the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal service ribbons he wore on his uniform. Boorda was apparently so distraught at these revelations that he committed suicide.
Admiral Boorda had a real cult following, in hindsight I suspected this was self-generated because the Navy brass viewed him as an upstart and an outsider. Boorda got himself in the press, they made a big deal about him chumming it up with the enlisted ranks. "The CNO is just like them and he understands them because he was one of them . . . blah . . . blah . . . blah . . ."
Boorda was a politician - not surprising, that's what it takes to make it to the very top of the heap in the military. In the wake of the Tailhook scandal, Boorda faced unrelenting hostility from a majority of Navy flag officers who believed he had betrayed the Navy by allying himself with Clinton administration demands for reform of the Navy's officer corps. In other words, he was a Liberal, and following his suicide the friends and supporters of Admiral Boorda went after Hackworth.
Colonel David Hackworth was the most decorated US soldier since World War II. He served in Korea & Vietnam, and his accomplishments were legendary. Hackworth was run out of the military on a rail because he criticized the military establishment on how they were mismanaging the Vietnam War, he spoke up about it on television, and then he wrote a bestseller about his odyssey.
Colonel Hackworth was later vindicated because everything he said & wrote about was true. When the Boorda episode played out, CNN and the CBS Evening News questioned the accuracy of Hackworth's own military decorations. Dan Rather tried busting Hackworth out for wearing a Ranger tab when he never went to Ranger school. Hackworth said OK fine you can have it, tossed it down on the table during a TV interview.
The truth of the matter - once they did their homework - was that Hackworth earned that Ranger tab serving in combat in a Ranger unit as an enlisted man in Korea. That was before Ranger School existed. Given how quickly the Korean conflict evolved, Special Operations units were being put together on the ground & thrown into combat.
There are Green Berets who served in joint CIA/Special Forces units with behind-the-lines Korean partisans who never set foot in Fort Bragg, did their Airborne training in Japan, never went through jump school at Fort Benning.
The Liberals of the mainstream press tried to bust Hack because he'd outed their darling CNO whom they'd built a cult around. Hack just laughed in their faces. When he threw down that Ranger tab and took it off his official website & records, the truth emerged about how incredibly heroic his service was in Korea. Nothing they dredged up could stick just because he didn't go through a school that didn't even exist during time of his combat service in a Ranger unit.
What was weird about the whole thing was the Chief of Naval Operations committing suicide over a couple of V devices on some green weenie ribbons that were otherwise legit. It didn't add up, and that's when the rumors started flying . . .
This whole episode was right on the heels of the USS Iowa incident. The USS Iowa was a World War II era battleship, a huge behemoth, one of the last of the dreadnoughts. It was a naval gunnery exercise, off the coast of Puerto Rico. Something went horribly, horribly wrong, and turret #2 blew up, killing 47 men.
The final independent post-incident investigations determined the explosion was caused by 'pressure ramming' bags of powder charges too fast and hard into a hot breech, and the charge bags spontaneously detonated. As any demo man knows, all it takes is heat and pressure to set off explosives - it does not always require a detonator.
But in the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Navy came up with this whopper of a tall tale about how it was a homosexual love affair gone bad, that a sailor, Clayton Hartwig, who died in the explosion, had deliberately caused it. During the investigation, numerous leaks to the media, later attributed to Navy officers and investigators, implied that Hartwig and another sailor, Kendall Truitt, had engaged in a homosexual relationship and that Hartwig had caused the explosion after their relationship had soured.
On no evidence whatsoever, the Navy brass tarnished this poor kids name and his family suffered for it. They sued and the Navy had to back down their allegations, but the damage had been done. So right after that Admiral Boorda comes along - prior enlisted, he's "really tight with the men" - then he gets busted for the fake V's for Valor . . . then right away he suicides . . .
Right on the heels of all this shame & dishonor with the Iowa incident . . . so the rumors were that he was gay and you can't keep THAT a secret in the Navy, and that was about to come out so he committed sideways . . . none of this was ever substantiated by the way.
Do I believe Admiral Boorda was gay? It's certainly believable and I've seen crazier stuff in the military. Why else would an extremely successful man do such a thing? If he was it doesn't take anything away from his honorable service. Boorda even had a plausible excuse for wearing the V's; the ship he was on at the time - during the Vietnam War - was decorated - ships get medals just like people, they paint them right up there on the superstructure . . . Naval Commendation Medal, Naval Achievement Medal with E for Excellence . . . in this case Boorda received his award at the same time - true, apparently - and he thought he got the V with it.
A close look at his citation would determine the accuracy, but this was by no means a career-ender. In fact former CNO Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who was Boorda's commander during the Vietnam War and who authorized these devices for Boorda and many others, wrote a letter to the effect that Boorda's wearing of the devices was "appropriate, justified and proper." All Boorda had to do was adjust his rack and drive on. Why would a guy kill himself over a such a relatively little thing like that? It simply does not make sense . . .
Shame and dishonor are powerful drivers. The only possibilities that make sense are that either Boorda was a Russian spy, or he had a few shipboard romances in his sea locker that preceded the Coed Navy - no big deal in the Navy but NEVER DISCUSSED.
All this on the tail of the Iowa scandal where Navy brass basically scapegoated an innocent man who - because he was dead - couldn't even defend himself.
Admiral Boorda's V devices pale in comparison to the Coast Guard commander's SEAL impersonation . . . his suicide was absolutely tragic, of course, and absolutely unnecessary. Regarding Colonel Hackworth, I'd say he earned that Ranger tab. Ten Silver Stars . . . I've heard of guys with two but even that is extraordinary.