Among them is Joseph Brian Cryer, 45, of Ocean City, a former candidate for city council who claimed to be an elite U.S. Navy SEAL and bragged online about having "77 confirmed kills" in 102 hours during a Libyan operation in 1986. To prove his bona fides, he showed a government ID card that shows him to be 100 percent disabled and a Navy commander.
But Cryer is a fraud, said Don Shipley, a retired SEAL from Chesapeake, Va., who makes it his business to expose fake ones. Shipley has access to a database of all the Navy SEALs since 1947. Since Navy SEAL Team 6 took out Osama bin Laden in a daring mission last month, he said he's received about 50 requests each day to investigate people who claim to be SEALs.
"Cryer is a thing of beauty," Shipley said.
|D.C.-area phonies criminally charged for falsifying their military service:|
|• William G. Hillar, of Millersville, Md., allegedly claimed to be a retired Green Beret colonel with extensive experience in counterterrorism and expertise in the international sex slave trade. Fraud charges were brought against Hillar in January.|
|• Command Sgt. Maj. Stoney Crump, the senior enlisted man at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was fired for faking his record and wearing numerous unauthorized awards and decorations. He was also sentenced to six months' in prison and demoted to staff sergeant.|
|• Former Marine Corps Sgt. David W. Budwah sentenced in 2009 to 18 months confinement and fined $25,000 for pretending to be an injured war hero to get free seats at rock concerts and professional sporting events.|
|• Trung Huan Nguyen pleaded guilty in 2008 to impersonating a Navy admiral and claiming he had served in the Persian Gulf War, the global war on terrorism and the Iraq war.|
|• In January, former Silver Spring resident Aaron J. Lawless was charged with falsely representing himself to have been awarded a Silver Star, four Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars after he received a national award from Glock for his supposed military valor.|
Military records show Cryer did serve as a seaman on the USS Caron while it supported the bombing of Libya, but the destroyer did not fire any weapons.
Cryer, who ran for Ocean City city council in 2006, admitted to The Washington Examiner in an interview late last week that he never was a Navy SEAL, and he made up the story about the 77 kills "as a coping mechanism," because he was bitter at the Navy.
He said is relieved to have been exposed.
"Don Shipley pushed me hard enough to look in the mirror and say, 'Who are you?' "
Others lie to further their careers or to get military benefits. In March, a former command sergeant major at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for doctoring his resume and wearing ribbons he didn't earn.
There are several websites devoted to exposing false claims, including POWNetwork.org.
John Ayala, the head of the D.C. chapter of the Guardian Angels, showed up on that site as someone falsely claiming to have received the Purple Heart -- awarded to service members wounded in combat. Photos show Ayala with a Purple Heart and Vietnam minimedals tacked to his red beret.
Ayala, who has not served in the military, said he felt he earned his Purple Heart when he was attacked while patrolling the streets of Southeast Washington during the crack cocaine epidemic of the early 1990s.
"We do our own thing to honor ourselves. The Purple Heart represents when I got stabbed in the back with an icepick in 1991," Ayala said.
He said he removed the medals in 2007 after his photo appeared online and he received complaints.
"No way, shape or form did I mean to offend anyone," Ayala said.
At the World War II memorial Friday, visitor Kevin Jones, of Madison, Wis., said what the imposters do "dishonors our country."
"I'd say they don't understand what the uniforms meant -- or what the lives that were lost for this country means," Jones said.
Puffing up one's military past is nothing new.
"Every society in history, since the caveman days, has revered its warriors," said B.G. Burkett, author of "Stolen Valor." Burkett, of Plano, Texas, has uncovered thousands of suspected fakes and says most lie out of a lack of self-esteem.
"They haven't done anything in their lives," he said. "But the second they say they're a warrior, everybody sees them in different light."