When someone says, "Yea, I was in the service. I was a clerk typist.", and tells you funny stories of boot camp and maybe the stuff he and his buddies did in Japan in 1975, you can believe that.
all heard of Stolen Valor and there are groups of veterans that
dedicate a lot of time exposing guys who claim to have been super combat vets,
SpecOps operators, Navy SEALs, wearing uniforms with rows of ribbons
they bought on-line.
What isn't as obvious is the guy
who was in the service and just embellishes what he did. Now he can talk
the talk, knows the units, lingo and details. Maybe he was on the base in a non-combat role but in a
support unit that fixed the boats. It might start out no more than
saying, "Yea, I served with the SEALS. No, I don't want to talk about
it.", to his friends at the bar. That's true in a way, if you squint. It
makes his boring job a little better story.
I ran into
this with a WWII vet recently. I am now about 99.5% sure the story he's
sharing is bovine excrement. The internet changes how easy it is to
check. I heard his stories and it was both believable and a great story,
so I went looking. Where he said he was and what he said he did seemed
like it would lend itself to a story for the blog, if not a book. I
wanted details. I found the unit, found mission histories, found a real
live historian in England that I spoke on the phone with last week.
what I found is that a man with the right age and right name was there,
but he wasn't what he claimed to be and couldn't have been. I suspect he made this fiction up right at the end of the
war. He started telling it real early and kept telling it until he had
it down pat. I don't know what he gained from it and it doesn't matter
any more. He's 93. I left out all the details because I am not trying to out him. That 0.5% of uncertainty is enough for me to leave this alone.
is verifiable, is that he served in WWII in England, came home, worked
for 45 years, married and had a family, served in local government, volunteered in the community and in all the small normal parts of his life, seems to have been part of the generation that built the post-war world I grew up in. A likeable, mostly honorable, man.
English historian I spoke with told me they find a certain amount of this. He told me about a (deceased) WWII fighter pilot whose family had contacted him
with stories of air to air combat, a crash landing in France,
details of the ride across the Channel, being returned to the base to
fly again, and so on. Great stuff. The family wanted to get it in the
Well, the man was a fighter pilot. But
the mission histories are complete, they all exist, and by the time
this man was flying there were no German fighters rising to meet them,
no desperate dogfights in the sky over Germany. By the last months of
the war, the Luftwaffe was pretty much defunct. He had flown his
missions, escorted bombers to targets, and flown back. No record he ever
fired his guns in combat. He had wanted to be a hero bad enough to tell pieces of other people's stories.
I suspect it has always been this way. That after the battles between Rome and Hannibal's army, guys who had been cooks and farriers went out and collected swords and armor and took them home to tell great stories of their bravery and how they had singlehandedly turned the tide of the battle.