Stolen Valor

So, as I was enjoying my morning glass of orange juice today, I came across something on the Internet that I had never heard of before. Stolen valor.
It was really quite random. I often sit and absently browse the Internet with my oj, just waking up, still drowsy, often reading the news or looking up silly things like basic training videos that more often than not evoke memories of what I call in my mind, “the good ol’ days.”
Anyway, I found a whole series of videos on YouTube regarding this stolen valor thing. Apparently, there have been quite a lot of people out there who will dress up in military uniforms to pretend they are a soldier in some form or fashion. Some of them pretend to be homeless vets and beg for money. Some of them use the uniform to get a discount at places like Starbucks. Some pretend to be combat veterans with medals and ribbons coming out of their ears. Some pretend to be soldier’s in order to woo a young lady, a potential girlfriend. Don’t ask me about that last one, anyone starting off a relationship based on a lie, especially a lie of that kind of magnitude must have some serious intimacy issues to be begin with.
Well, all these videos I found were of veterans and military people busting these imposters. I was completely blown away… really. I had no idea that people would even think to do this kind of thing. I was truly, utterly amazed. What was even more amazing is how badly these people tried to dress up their uniforms. Being a veteran, I can tell ya, it’s very easy to spot a fake. One middle aged man “gave himself” a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and numerous others awards. Not so outlandish for sure, there a few of them floating around. But what was entirely amusing to me was how he pinned them to his uniform. They were haphazard, jumbled all in no particular order or alignment on his chest, just a big cluster of medals. What made it even worse was his Special Forces tab wasn’t even on his shoulder, it was on his chest. I guess to the untrained eye this might not appear so bad… well who am I fooling or better yet who is he trying to fool. I can’t think of anyone actually falling for such a slovenly job of putting together any kind of uniform. It really was quite hilarious and I couldn’t help but chuckle, giggle, then just burst outright with laughter because that uniform was so absurd.
But this begs a question in my mind. Why would someone feel compelled to do this? Before I joined the Army, as a young boy, my father gave me his ribbons from the Korean War and I wore them out in the backyard with my friends playing war. But it would never occur to me to use them as an adult, trying to sneak, cheat, or falsely impress someone. Try as I may, I can’t wrap my head around someone… faking themselves to that extent. It just doesn’t make sense. It makes me wonder about the inner pride or self-esteem these people might have. Wouldn’t you rather just be you and… be proud of who you are, for better or worse? And if you are so interested in the uniform, so interested in what it’s like to be a military person, then why not join? At least you would be authentic. I’m sorry, I just can’t understand why someone would feel the need to present themselves as something they’re not. There are lots of things to be proud of other than being a soldier.
Some people who filmed and busted these people were very angry with them. They felt insulted and outraged that someone would do that. One guy was so angry he walked after the imposter, yelling at him for three blocks while the imposter tried to get away, taking off the uniform and apologizing profusely.
That I can understand. I can understand the anger and resentment. People who wear those uniforms have made tremendous sacrifices, have lost many people in their lives due to war, and there is a deep vein of pride that runs through them. That uniform is something they’ve earned, something they’ve bled for, fought for, something they feel honored to wear.
It made me think about those uniforms I have hanging in my closet. I don’t wear them in public anymore and I certainly don’t feel any need to advertise that I am a veteran but, they are protected by garment bags and I look at them every so often. Believe it or not, there is a pride that runs through me. I don’t know if I could help it if I wanted to. I did earn those uniforms. They are a part of me as much as the hair on my head. I am part of them, they are part of me. They symbolize in a lot of ways some of the greatest challenges, some of the greatest pains and losses, some of the greatest acts of courage, and some of my greatest adventures of my life. More than that, I belong to a very small group of people who have sacrificed, sometimes everything they are, for something greater than themselves.
I’m sorry these people haven’t found something in their lives to feel as I do. I hope they do. I hope that someday they won’t feel a need to “fake” it. If I had any advice for them it would be find something in their lives they are proud of, no matter what it is.
I am who I am, for better or worse, and I like that.
Goodnight world.

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