Skip to comments.Vietnam veteran fabricated heroic acts during trial
Posted on 06/29/2014 2:08:59 AM PDT by markomalley
In pleading the case of Charles Chavous in April, defense attorney Scott Connell detailed his heroic acts during the Vietnam War in an attempt to convince Judge Michael N. Annis that Chavous was deserving of leniency.
But Chavous deeds of heroism werent true.
Chavous, 63, was in the Marines and was in combat during his one-year tour of duty in 1970. But there was no Navy Cross, no Distinguished Service Cross, no five Purple Hearts, and no escape from a North Vietnamese prison camp, according to records The Augusta Chronicle obtained from the National Archives.
Chavous pleaded guilty April 3 to hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealing the death of another for his limited role in a 1975 slaying.
Connell didnt know Chavous had fabricated his story of heroism. After being contacted by the newspaper about concerns regarding his clients military record, Connell provided a copy of Chavous discharge document that listed his military awards including the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Purple Hearts, and the Bronze Star.
Connell said he also had a stack of VA medical records dating back to the 70s that detailed Chavous story of being repeatedly wounded, taken captive and escaping from a prison camp.
After the newspaper obtained verification of Chavous military history, Connell said he couldnt comment because of ethical guidelines.
Annis, who sentenced Chavous to five years of probation, said even if he hadnt heard the account of heroism he believes Chavous sentence was appropriate for seeing Bronzi Leon Peppers murdered and never telling law enforcement.
Attempts to reach Chavous for comment were unsuccessful.
The April hearing wasnt the first time Chavous had embellished his military service.
He told the same story to the Augusta-Richmond County Historic Society when it created Heroes Overlook on Riverwalk Augusta in 1994. According to a story in The Chronicle, two bronze plaques were to be set for Chavous. There are no plaques for him there, however, and no records exist to explain what happened.
Chavous was a rifleman and was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal and the Vietnamese Campaign Medal, according to his real military discharge document. But he was never wounded nor taken prisoner.
We call it the POW sob story, said retired Lt. Cmdr. John Michael McGrath, who was a POW and has worked with others to expose people who make false claims of military service.
In Vietnam, 966 Americans were POWs; only 662 got out alive, and 160 have died since the war, he said. The number of Americans who escaped from POW camps and survived was 30 in Vietnam and two in Laos, McGrath said. But according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 1,000 people claimed to have escaped from prison camps, McGrath said.
McGrath, whose list of medals includes the Silver Star, Superior Service Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross from his time in Vietnam, said the fact that Chavous has been telling his story for decades is typical.
McGrath pointed to Edward Lee Daily, who claimed that he witnessed Americans commit the Nogun-ri Massacre during the Korean War. Published accounts of his story led to a special investigation. There was no massacre, and Daily also falsely claimed to have been a POW. He was prosecuted for fraud in 2002, convicted, sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to repay more than $400,000 in benefits.
Daily had been lying for 40 years.
McGrath said he has written to every VA secretary asking for an investigation. He has only received boilerplate responses that all is correct, he said.
McGraths list of 662 Vietnam POW survivors matches the Department of Defenses records, he said. The VA could run its list against the departments but has not.
The fraud continues, McGrath said. The VA has 91 POW survivors from Desert Storm, but there were only 21 and one has died, he said.
Why someone would fake war experiences is a good question, McGrath said. He thinks it has a lot to do with low self-esteem and the idea that it is only a little white lie. But such claims get repeated and then they are stuck with it. It even turns up in obituaries, McGrath said.
Those who take the lie to the VA also get additional benefits and tax exemptions.
McGrath, who was a POW from June 30, 1967, to March 4, 1973, said he doesnt take great offense at those who lie. But one aspect does annoy him: all the people with POW license tags. POWs get a break on the fees. Most states, including his home state of Colorado, only ask the VA for a letter of verification and the VA allows service members to self-report.
McGrath sees the POW plates a lot, he said. But he knows there are only seven Vietnam POWs in the entire state.
If the VA can’t verify military records, who can?
One of my best friends, Joe Hotchkiss, is an editor at the Augusta Chronicle. He has some good columns that I occasionally post here.
It will be interesting to see if Bowe Bergdahl gets lifetime vet benefits.
Why would they fake military experience. Maybe these memories are seared into their brains.
“Connell provided a copy of Chavous discharge document that listed his military awards including the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Purple Hearts, and the Bronze Star.”
Discharge document? DD-214? Wouldn’t that be fraud if the perp altered that?
Sure. But fraud, perjury, evidence-tampering - no one gets prosecuted for those sorts of things anymore. But see what happens if you're caught with empty 20-round rifle magazine in your car.
The escape from a NVA prison camp is the dead givaway.
I have run into several wannabees over the years with elite insignia patches and pins at veteran gatherings in Melbourne and Kokomo. Once during Veterans Day in DC, I met the head of the Force Recon Assn who told me that he will often see someone with a Force Recon patch(that was made wrong but sold by unknowing venders} and start toward them in the crowd and when they catch wind of his approach wearing an embroidered Force Recon Association golf shirt they will start moving away. But when you see someone with a First Log or a Transportation Patch, you know that they are genuine.