This page considers the appropriation of military honours
and associated attributes.
It covers -
Many people appear to conceptualise identity crime in
terms of dollars and cents, whether as money or other
valuables stolen from the victim (through for example
misuse of the victim's credit card) or as compensation
Offences may however be broader, with some offenders gaining
little or no financial advantage but inflicting injury
by claiming honours or approbation to which they are not
entitled. The legal response to those claims is problematical,
illustrating disagreements about the nature of offences
and the difficulty experienced by some victims who have
not suffered a direct financial loss.
Australian law does little to protect memory. Action regarding
impersonation, as discussed elsewhere in this profile,
centres on -
of the state (eg people falsely claiming to be representatives
of the state, such as a policeman, marriage celebrant
or member of the armed forces)
a financial advantage on a fraudulent basis.
Why do people appropriate military honours or claim unauthorised
membership of military units? Answers vary.
Some offenders appear to have been motivated primarily
by expectations of financial gain: claiming to be a hero
can result in career preferment or in more direct rewards,
such as gifts from those who hold military achievement
in high esteem or speaking opportunities.
Other offenders have used medals and uniforms as a means
to an end, for example providing unauthorised access to
secret information or restricted facilities.
Some offenders appear to have adopted military garb -
particularly that of officers - as disguise in situations
of personal danger. It has thus been suggested that Francis
Percy Toplis (1896-1920), aka The Monocled Mutineer, claimed
to be a British colonel as a way of escaping identification
as a deserter or mutineer at a time when mutineers were
liable to summary trial and execution.
Other offenders seem to have embroidered their personal
histories, sometimes on an outrageous scale, because of
personal inadequacies - a desire to bask in community
esteem and regret that they failed to meet personal/family
expectations about heroism or service.
Elsewhere on this site we have discussed degree
mills: entities that will sell you a degree from a
fake university (or even a fake degree from a real university).
They attract people who want to pad a resume
or merely reinforce a wobbly ego and who are prepared
to pay for an instant degree ("You can get a degree
in any major that you desire in just 7 days!").
Some people, alas, have bought heroism - or esteem and
financial rewards sometimes associated with military honours
- by fraudulently claiming to have been awarded military
decorations or otherwise recognised for combat service.
Pamla Sterner's 2005 The Stolen Valor Act of 2005:
Medal of Honor Legislative Changes (PDF)
for example notes the case of a US conman who had himself
photographed wearing a USN Rear Admiral's uniform with
a Medal of Honor ribbon and unsuccessfully tried to use
a false NSA identity card when confronted by FBI investigators.
Other incidents have included the Illinois judge who resigned
after admitting that the Medal of Honor displayed in his
chamber was a fake and that he was not entitled to the
In 2005 Australia's Charles Sturt University fired James
Montgomery, who - as noted by ANZMI
- had claimed to have been awarded the Victoria Cross
(somewhat rarer than a Nobel Prize) and to have variously
served as a US Marine, a US Navy SEAL, an Australian SAS
Captain, a SAS Major, a Commando and a RAN Reserve Captain.
A year later 'Colonel' Michael Nicholson appeared in a
Sydney court after allegedly representing himself at an
Anzac Day ceremony as a returned soldier, replete with
numerous medals. He allegedly used fake ID to enter the
Randwick Barracks, where he demanded free tailoring of
official uniforms, and celebrated in the officers' mess
at HMAS Watson.
Central Local Court magistrate Carney commented that uniforms
defined a person's "role and task in society"
and bestowed a degree of importance and authority. Nicholson
had "acquired that authority through furtive means".
He pleaded guilty to seven charges, including falsely
representing to be a returned soldier, wearing service
decorations when unentitled, possessing a prohibited weapon,
trespass and obtaining financial advantage by deception.
He was given a six-month suspended sentence and fined
Victorian truck driver Peter Bennett attended the 90th
anniversary of the sergeants' mess at Point Cook (RAAF
Base Williams) in 2005, the culmination of an impersonation
that saw unauthorised participation in the Australian
Defence Force security team for Melbourne's Commonwealth
Games. Bennett purported to be a Warrant Officer class
one who had been awarded the Vietnam Medal, National Medal,
South Vietnamese Star and Infantry Combat Badge.
After arrest he pleaded guilty to charges of impersonating
a Commonwealth public official and making a false declaration,
admitting prior convictions for similar offences in the
late 1960s and early 1970s.
'Major' Reg Newton, junior vice-president of the 8th Division
Association in Australia, claimed a Military Cross and
bar, service as a secret agent during the Cold War (setting
up escape lines in East Germany in 1951, "awarded
MC for heavy action Laos", almost killed in Mongolia
and wounded in Korea) and decoration by King George VI.
Alas, in 2006 evidence emerged that he was never a major,
had never won a Military Cross and indeed never served
overseas. He reportedly told acquaintances there are no
records because his work was "top secret".
UK fantasist Alan McIlwraith claimed to be Captain Sir
Alan McIlwraith, CBE, DSO, MC, MiD - war hero, officer
in the Parachute Regiment, top of his class at Sandhurst
and a terrorism expert who served in Northern Ireland,
the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Unabashed,
he created his own Wikipedia entry.
A year after exposure he was gain attracting media attention,
this time by posing as an internationally-famous magician.
There are few hard statistics on the extent of such offences
and much of the literature is deeply politicised.
Works on appropriation in the US include the revisionist
Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed
of Its Heroes and Its History (Dallas: Verity Press
1998) by B G Burkett & Glenna Whitley and equally
fervent Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, &
Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service
(Philadelphia: Xlibris 2003) by Henry & Erika Holzer.
The Holzers claim that
We are engulfed in a national scandal. Unknown to most
Americans, there is a virtual epidemic of impostors
in this country - countless thousands of men (and a
few women) who, since the Vietnam War, have been either
inventing a non-existent military service, or inflating
their war records. Veterans' benefits amounting to hundreds
of millions of dollars are being stolen. Military decorations
are being falsely claimed, and often worn, by men never
authorized to receive them - the kind earned the hard
way by genuine war heroes.
have noted that UK film star Trevor Howard (1916-1988)
gained the respect of his peers through tales of military
exploits that included parachuting into Nazi-occupied
Norway and taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily
(recognised through award of the Military Cross). Following
his death UK files revealed that Howard had been invalided
out of the army in 1943, judged as "mentally unstable"
with a "psychopathic personality".
Film and television star Raymond Burr (1917-1993) falsely
claimed a distinguished army career, adding a Purple Heart
to his résumé for being shot in the stomach
on Okinawa or for a wound when his ship was attacked by
He variously claimed to have been forced to leave San
Rafael Military Academy when his parents lost their fortune,
obtained a degree in English literature from McGill University,
held teaching positions at Amherst and Columbia, discovered
Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, created and run the Shakespeare
Repertory Company in Toronto, learned several languages
while managed a grandfather's estates in China, had his
own Shakespearean repertory company in England and been
the youngest actor to play Macbeth.
Why stop there? He invented and killed off several wives
and children, as noted by Michael Starr in Hiding
in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr (New
York: Applause 2008).
Burr's fictions have been attributed to efforts to manage
his persona as a closeted
gay man in a homophobic era.
UK soldier Jim McAuley boasted on Facebook that he had
been a paratrooper at the battle of Goose Green during
the Falklands war, had served with the SAS (including
being the second SAS man on the balcony during the London
Iranian Embassy siege), taken out two enemy machine gun
emplacements in the first Gulf war, been involved in the
rescue of captured Irish Rangers in Sierra Leone and killed
over than 100 people.
Alas, he was a fantasist whose active service appears
to have been restricted to service in the Army Catering
Corps. He resigned in 2008 after being criticised by unimpressed
members of the SAS.
In Australia the key legislation is the Defence Act
1903 (Cth), strengthened in 2003.
of that Act prohibits an individual from falsely claiming
to be a returned serviceperson. Section 80B
prohibits wearing of medals to which the person is not
entitled (provision is made for wearing in films/videos
and by family members of deceased veterans), with 80B(4)
requiring that "a person shall not falsely represent
himself as being the person upon whom a service decoration
has been conferred".
There are some state enactments, for example the Ex-Servicemen's
Badges Act 1967 (Tas) | here.
Overseas statutes include the US federal Stolen Valor
Act of 2006 (18 U.S.C. Section 704) which provides
who knowingly wears, manufactures, or sells any decoration
or medal authorized by Congress for the U.S. armed forces,
or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the
members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette
of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable
imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations
made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title
or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
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