WRAL Investigates

Group exposes those who lie about military service, awards

Posted June 15, 2010 2:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2010 7:24 p.m. EDT

— Larry Bailey, a retired captain in the Navy Seals, said he hates “anyone who lies,” especially about their military service and awards. He occasionally helps a group called the P.O.W. Network check Navy Seal records and expose people who fib.

“If it’s just someone who says they’re a Marine who fought in Vietnam, I don’t worry about that,” said Bailey, who ran Navy Seal training for three years during his career. “If you’re looking for monetary gain or extraordinary personal attention and privilege, I’ll go after you in a heart beat.”

The operators of the P.O.W. Network say they get requests to research people every day. They simply write a letter to the National Personnel Records office and file a Freedom of Information Act request. When they discover imposters, they post it on the P.O.W. website, which features about 3,700 names so far.

People who lie about their service record do it for a number of reasons, according to P.O.W. operators. It could be ego, military benefits or sometimes because of mental illness. Whatever the reason, it’s now easier to file criminal charges.

That’s what happened to Michael Delos Hamilton, a former Marine who raised suspicions after he spoke at a ceremony honoring veterans at the Jacksonville/Onslow County Vietnam Veterans Memorial on April 24. He is facing federal charges for lying about his medals and service.

“What’s really sad is that he dishonored every name on that Vietnam wall when he stood up there and claimed to be somebody that he’s not. There’s 58,000 names on that wall. If it was possible, they all turned over in their grave,” said Sgt. Major Joe Houle, a retired veteran.

Houle was at the event and said he knew Hamilton had already been on probation for lying about his military service once before. The current charges against Hamilton are still pending.

The Stolen Valor Act, signed into law in 2006, makes it easier to file charges for fake claims, but it's also under fire in the courts for violating free speech.

Bailey says the proof is in the paperwork called a DD-214. Where he lives in Beaufort County, even a former police chief's claims of being a Navy Seal were called into question.

“I told the commissioners, after some checking, there’s no way this guy has ever been a Seal,” Bailey said.

Sixty-six people have been charged under the Stolen Valor Act. It's unclear how many were specifically charged with lying about their military record and honors because sections of the law were in place prior to 2006.