Our Echo
Title, story type, location, year, person or writer
Add a Post
View Posts
Popular Posts
Hall of Fame


Story ID:9277
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Everywhere All states USA
Person:Phony Heros
View Comments (5)   |   Add a Comment Add a Comment   |   Print Print   |     |   Visitors


By Fred Wickert

I received a phone call earlier today from a veteran friend who still suffers from PTSD after the Vietnam War. He was more than a little upset. He had been to McDonalds and there were four men sitting at the next table to his. They were talking and laughing loudly. He could not help overhearing them. Most everybody in the place could not help overhearing them. My friend noticed they were wearing vests with a lot of military patches sewn on them and some were wearing military ribbons. It is something that seems a little strange on civilian clothes. I clearly remember most of us on active duty didnít wear our ribbons until it became mandatory to do so.

Most of us veterans who have spent considerable time serving in our nationís military are familiar with the ribbons and know what they mean and what they are for, with the exception of those new ones that have been created since our time in uniform. They are also familiar with a large number of military patches. Those patches are indicative of different outfits or units and also in many cases, of a particular job within the military. Badges are also indicative of different things. They all help to tell a story. They can tell that a man served in a particular job in a particular outfit in a particular battle in a particular war when you put them all together. When they are on a uniform they are also worn in a prescribed manner, described in military regulations.

The veteran friend who called me this morning is one who is familiar with those things. He served the time in uniform, in theater and yes, time in literal hell to earn the badges, patches and medals he has. He knows what they are and he knows what others of a similar nature are. He knows and understands full well what it took to get them. He respects them for what they are when he sees them and he respects those who have earned them, for what they have done to earn them. I do too, as do all of us veterans.

When my friend called me, he was upset. The reason for his being upset was that the patches and ribbons on the vests these men were wearing did not jibe with each other. They didnít match or add up, and the war stories they were telling did not jibe with them either. To one like him who knew, it was a dead giveaway that these men were fakes. They were phonies and had probably never served a day in the military. They might have served in the National Guard and never been called to active duty, but that is the extent they had served. They probably had not served at all. All of these patches and badges and ribbons can be easily purchased in and Army & Navy surplus store.

There are people who put these things on, knowing nothing of their significance and go out in public masquerading as a veteran and sometimes as a war hero. Why, I donít know, but there are people who do it. There are others who buy military uniforms and rank insignia. Then they dress up in them and go places posing a s a high ranking officer to get into private clubs, to pick up women, to do all sorts of cons to get money, discounts in some cases and so on. Occasionally they even penetrated officer clubs. One was arrested posing as a full colonel and was cashing a lot of bad checks.

People like my friend get highly perturbed when others do these things and rightly so. I get angry myself. I spent twenty years in this nationís uniform. During that time I was awarded a number of medals. Except for very formal occasions ribbons are worn in lieu of medals. Each ribbon designates a particular medal. When the same medal is won more than once, the additional medals are designated by knots or oak leaf clusters. Color of the knots and oak leaf clusters can be bronze, silver or gold and each color represents something different. Some ribbons have a V which stands for valor and some have a star which designates a major battle. All these things have meaning and they can be read almost like a book. To an extent, they tell a story. A person who is familiar with them and their meaning can tell that story just by observing them.

When a person has been through what it takes to be awarded those, it means a lot to him in a way that cannot be described. Often the horrors that came with them are so great the veteran does not want to talk about them. He does not want to relive the pain that goes with them. So many veterans do not want to talk about their wartime experiences. The real vet does not sit around at McDonalds boasting about his heroics.

These people who do this cannot be right in the head. Why do they do it? Are they trying to look big or important in the eyes of others? Are they trying to get freebies? Occasionally someone discovering you are a decorated vet will thank you for your service and offer to pay for your coffee, a drink or even a meal. Occasionally a place of business will give a veteran a 10% discount. Are they doing it in hopes of getting that? I donít know. I do know that I myself and other genuine vets find it disgusting and offensive and insulting. We donít like it one bit. They are trying to take credit for something we earned and they didnít and it offends us.

As for the value of all those medals and ribbons, I can honestly say there is none, other than the satisfaction we occasionally got that we had been recognized for our participation. Some ribbons more so than others. To anyone else, they are really worthless. If a dollar bill will buy you a cup of coffee without ribbons, a dollar bill and four rows of ribbons will still buy you only that one cup of coffee. That is how much they are really worth to an outsider.

Until recently, it was not illegal to do this false wearing of medals and ribbons. A couple of really blatant cases in recent years did cause Congress to make it a criminal offense. I believe they called it the Stolen Valor law. How much effort will be made to enforce that law, I donít know, but doubt it will be much. After all, only old veterans really care.

First photo - authors medals. At bottom of frame are ribbons representing awards for which there are no medals.

Second phot - badges and pins of author during military service with authors ribbons at bottom of frame.

Please visit my website at: www.fredsstoryroom.com