Stolen valor

David Epps

I was about to meet with a young man, recently discharged from the United States Air Force, for breakfast at a local restaurant. I was going to welcome him back to the community and buy his breakfast.

I was the first to arrive and stood in line at the hostess desk. In front of me was a young man I judged to be about 18. He had a short haircut and sported a Marine Corps T-shirt that featured the famous “yellow footprints” known by every Marine who passed through Parris Island or San Diego and the name of a certain unit. The shirt also bore other Marine Corps symbols. He was with another man, a bit older, and I decided I was going to buy this young Marine’s breakfast as well.

When he looked at me briefly, I said, “Semper fi!” He didn’t respond so I assumed he hadn’t heard me. I moved closer and said, “Where are you stationed?” There was a pause, an awkward silence, and then he said, “I’m not stationed anywhere. I almost enlisted…” Whatever he said after that wasn’t important.

It turns out that, according to him, he did physical training with a group of recruits for six months but was leaving for college that very afternoon. He didn’t enlist. He wasn’t a Marine. He wasn’t even a Marine recruit yet here he was with a military haircut wearing a shirt that led me, and everyone else who saw it, to believe that he was a Marine. He wasn’t. I didn’t buy him breakfast. Because I had my church polo shirt on, I was polite. But, inside, I was cold.

Perhaps the same is true with the other military branches, but those of us who actually earned the title of “United States Marine,” take this stuff very seriously. He was actually lucky I was the one behind him in line. I know plenty of Marines and Marine veterans who would have made a public issue of it right there in the restaurant. Some might even have ripped it off, risking an assault charge.

Wearing a military shirt isn’t the same as a college shirt or sweat shirt. I have a University of Tennessee shirt although, except for continuing education classes taken when I worked for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, I took no classes at UT.

I have had an Atlanta Braves baseball cap and an Atlanta Falcons shirt. No one thinks I played for those teams. It’s a fan thing. It’s perfectly acceptable.

Dressing in a manner designed to make other people think you are something when you are not is unacceptable. It’s pretentious. It’s deceptive. It’s posing. It’s a lie.

If I see someone wearing a Vietnam Veteran or War in Afghanistan cap, or the like, I make the assumption that person has been to war. I treat them as such. I am not a Vietnam Veteran. I am, however, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Association and I am a member because they allow Vietnam-era veterans to join. I support that organization.

However, I do not wear anything that might identify me as a combat veteran or an in-country veteran of that war. I do not own a Vietnam Veteran shirt or ball cap. That honor is for those who have been there and done that, in my estimation. I am a Marine veteran, a “Cold War” veteran. That is enough for me, because it’s what I am.

There is a term called “stolen valor.” It refers to those who fraudulently pose as veterans, or those veterans who pretend that they did more than they actually did (by wearing unauthorized medals, ribbons, or rank, for example). The Stolen Valor Act of 2013, signed into law by President Barack Obama, under certain circumstances, makes such posing a federal crime. It’s wrong and it dishonors those who truly paid the price and didn’t “almost enlist.”

It is not a crime, under the Stolen Valor Act, to falsely pretend to be in the military. What it is, however, is an indication that the person either ignorant or that the person has a lack of integrity.

In the Marine family (I don’t know about the others), there’s a bit of an exception for families of Marines. For example, when a Marine veteran dies and the Marine Corps League presents the widow or widower a Fallen Marine Certificate, the local MCL also presents the Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor (the EGA) symbol to the survivor in the form of a lapel pin or a broach. They are told they will always be part of the Marine family and to wear it proudly.

There are bumper stickers, caps, pins, and shirts for “Marine Dads,” “Marine Moms,” and other family members. If I see a man wearing a USMC t-shirt and comment on it and he says, “My granddaughter is the Marine, not me,” I congratulate him and welcome him to the family. But to parade around in public hoping that someone will think you are a military person by having the haircut and a piece of clothing? Nope. That’s just wrong.

You didn’t “almost enlist,” as hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps millions – have claimed. You either did or you didn’t. If you chose not to enlist, fine. There’s no military draft in this country so there’s no obligation to serve. Only 1 percent of the people in this nation currently serve in the military. Most of those who did serve do not think less of someone who chose another path.

But we also have no respect and little patience with the pretenders. Leave the shirts, the caps, and the pins to those who earned the right to wear them.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City ( He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at]


  1. Oh my
    I was looking to solve an argument with my husband about a couple Marine bumper stickers on my car from the previous owner
    Ok it’s a 20yr old hoop D…$1,000 car. P.O.S.
    …..He says I NEED to take off these MARINE stickers. I don’t like removing them unless they’re ugly or failing. Besides .I met a great guy who was a Marine and I’m just paying tribute to him.

    I’m not looking to masquerade or be fraudulent.
    How about NOT ASSUMING !!
    I’m NOT stealing any valor
    Sometimes things are just THERE !
    People donate old clothes to the Goodwill…. I’ve seen homeless wearing scrubs…..I don’t assume they’re Doctor’s
    I appreciate all y’alls Service to our country.
    I’m a supporter ❤️ a lover it a fighter.
    Hey.. it’s a conversation starter !
    And Stop PROFILING !
    GEEZ can’t a fella wear a comfortable shirt with pretty colors that “bring out the “eyes””
    Lol….and leave the clean cut guy ALONE
    He sounds like an admirer not a poser.
    Would you rather have seen a bum dirt bag of a guy wearing said shirt just so you could PROCESS…and just “let it go”
    Such an over sensitive world we’ve become.
    Just STOP IT

  2. Stolen Valor?
    And yet, many of you voted for a draft dodger coward under the guise of bone spurs.
    Thousands of others could also had gotten waivers but did not; they served.
    The vast majority did not want to go to Nam, but did.
    Vietnam was an unpopular war…all wars are.
    Bone Spurs did not stop trump from golfing while thousands were fighting in Nam.
    Now, you trump lovers…feel free to post negative comments.

  3. Actually, the most enlightening revelation from this article is that even Marines can be snowflakes. I suppose no one is exempted from hypersensitivity about some perceived offense, no matter how innocuous it appears to others.

      • Mr. Tucker – Rev. Epps presents a classic example of snowflake behavior. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has written extensively about this phenomenon in his research on coddling children.

        The “victim” feels like he belongs to a special, superior group. He trusts his feelings explicitly, and he views others as either good or bad (no middle ground). He seeks out like-minded supporters rather than objective analysis, and he refuses to retract his victimization regardless of any rational argument offered him. He is inconsistent in his outrage and usually chooses safe targets.

        Rev. Epps’ column and subsequent commentary demonstrates that he checks all the boxes. He’s a special marine who just felt that the young man was posing. The boy is thusly bad and no alternative explanations can be countenanced.

        Interestingly, Rev. Epps has penned scores of columns since 2016, and markedly absent are any defense of the armed services from outrageous behavior of Commander-in-Chief Bone Spurs. When the president ridicules a former prisoner of war for being captured, castigates a Gold Star family, and repeatedly denigrates his generals, Rev. Epps chooses the safe route. It is much easier to pick on a teenager than to call out a real threat to military valor. I think his holy book calls it straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

        • Having followed this thread for a bit, I must admit that referring to anyone who has proven themselves as a Marine a snowflake is at best a stretch. Further, when one ends their opinion with a biased attack totally outside the subject they discredit the point of view they’re trying to make.
          I simply ask that one make their point factually without the emotional tripe of an adolescent.
          If the shoe fits……..

          • Mr. King – Instead of ad hominem attacks, might you provide any cogent argument of facts refuting my or Dr. Haidt’s contentions. All my points follow logically from social science research including Rev. Epps’ reluctance to criticize the president’s mockery of military valor while picking on an adolescent for a much lesser offense. Rather than constituting an irrelevant fact, it is germane to the argument I am advancing. I am as surprised as are you that a Marine would admit to such hypersensitivity.

            In clear words a veteran like you might understand, lay your feelings aside and put up or shut up.

          • Good job Mike King. You obviously hit a nerve with the resident sesquipedalian orator. It doesn’t take much to reveal his true character.

  4. Thank you for responding to the article. I am somewhat surprised that I have received so many comments because that article appeared a year ago and, apparently, someone else picked it up and distributed it. A great many of these comments didn’t come until this month.
    To clarify a point, when I asked the young man a question about his service, had he replied promptly something like, “Oh I’m not a Marine,” and then explained further I would had likely had nothing to write about. But he didn’t. I don’t recall if I put this in the article but, when asked the question, he hesitated before he answered.
    Since I have worked with people for nearly five decades, 25 of that in law enforcement as a chaplain and as a certified and sworn officer, I have learned a few things about people and I determined that he almost said something else. I have seen it before when people think about lying. He didn’t lie. But, it was that hesitation, plus the right out of boot camp hair cut, and his wearing a certain Marine shirt that can’t be bought online , that caused me to believe he was allowing people to think he was a Marine.
    Many times I have encountered people wearing USMC swag and have inquired about their service. Almost all who were not Marines said, “My brother is a Marine,” or “I’m wearing it to honor a friend who is deployed,” or even, “I’m just a supporter of the Marines.” That’s all fine and good. Sometimes, it’s the girlfriend or spouse of a Marine. Or a parent. I’m good with that. In fact, on my vest that I wear at meetings of the Military Order of the Devil Dogs I have my father’s WW II ribbons affixed. If anyone inquires, I let them know I wear them to honor my dad who served in the Navy during that brutal war. This was, I believed, something else.
    As it was, I was polite and never said anything disparaging to this young man. A few have taken me to the woodshed because I had the feelings that I had or because I am a priest and my thoughts, to them, were unseemly. Well, that’s their opinion and, in this country –at least, so far– they have the right to express it—as do I.
    So, thanks for reading the article, even though I have no idea how it came to some of you, and, for those of you who are or were in the military, thank you for your service and sacrifice. For those who got terribly bent out of shape about it, I write a weekly opinion column. That was my opinion that week. If you disagree with it, well, I’m used to that. For those who shared constructive criticism and advice, thank you for your thoughts and your civility.
    God bless America and Semper fi,
    David Epps

    • I just ran across this article and I’m surprised at all the negative comments. I understood where you were coming from, and I found this stolen valor situation respectful. I see how some people don’t see this as stolen valor because it’s not like the YouTube videos of people wearing full uniforms with messed up matches etc, but this young man clearly knew what he was doing. There is a particular appearance and you never claimed people couldn’t have haircuts or wear Marine merchandise, but as you write he hesitates and says technically he wasn’t enlisted. I think since the kid admitted it people don’t think it’s stolen valor, but I agree that it would be. I can’t imagine someone who served and watched their buddies get killed and seeing some kid putting on a facade when he tells you straight up he’s going to college. It doesn’t matter his potential future plans, he’s wearing a particular shirt that insinuates he went though boot. The funniest part of the comments is people claiming you said the Marines were better when you talk about how you’re buying breakfast for a young man discharged from the Air Force. You talked about the Marines because that’s your experience. People just want to argue I guess. Thank you for writing this and defending your article. I think it’s very well written.

  5. 1st. As a man of God, you should know our Lord calls us to not judge others.

    2nd. You have no idea what that young man’s plans are. All you know is he was in the AF and going off to college. You have no idea if he was going off to an ROTC program in college or simply planned to get a MC commission afterward? You don’t even know how many combat tours he’s done.

    I wasn’t a Recon Marine but I have a Recon t-shirt and wear it proudly. My husband was a Recon Marine. My daughter isn’t a Marine but wears my t-shirts and sweatshirts. She’s proud as hell that her parents are retired Marines. Perhaps this young man had a brother or a close friend who was killed. Again, you don’t know his story.

    It’s one thing to walk around in a set of blues with a CAR. THAT’S stolen Valor. But a t-shirt? Again.. .you don’t know his story and shame on you for judging him. I’ll bet he his story is amazing.

    • In point #1, I could point out that you have obviously judged me. Which is fine. In point #2, you need to re-read the article. There were TWO young men. One was in the USAF and I was buying his breakfast. The other was the not-Marine that I ALMOST bought breakfast. Person number two was not in the military and thus had never seen anything military.
      In paragraph 3, thank you for your service.
      In the final paragraph, he told me his story…he ALMOST enlisted but decided to go to college and not do the military thing. Which is also fine. See my longer response elsewhere on here. By the way, you judged me again.

  6. 1st. As a man of God, you should know our Lord calls us to not judge others.

    2nd. You have no idea what that young man’s plans are. All you know is he was in the AF and going off to college. You don’t know if he was going off to an ROTC program in college or simply planned to get a MC commission afterward? You don’t even know how combat tours he’s done.

    I wasn’t a Recon Marine but I have a Recon t-shirt and wear it proudly. My husband was a Recon Marine. My daughter isn’t a Marine but wears my t-shirts and sweatshirts. She’s proud as hell that her parents are retired Marines. Perhaps this young man had a brother or a close friend who was killed.

    It’s one thing to walk around in a set of blues with a CAR. THAT’S stolen Valor. But a t-shirt? Again.. .you don’t know his story and shame on you for judging him. I’ll bet he has an amazing story.

  7. I get it Pastor, as any Marine, Navy medical or Religious personnel does. Few of the others can understand this by the very merits it took to recruit for their respective branch in the first place. Look at all branches of service recruiting methods and compared to the USMC. They all promise this, promise that, free these, some of those… The USMC promises one thing, and they sell themselves on one thing only. Pride. I read all these tit-for-tat comments, all I comprehend is a lack of self pride. Oh sure, guys proud of their service, no doubt about that… Zip-point-feces esprit de corps, fraternal pride. None. Noda. As a young paramedic in the early 80s I was one who looked to join the Marines. They didn’t have medical fields. So I had to settle on the Navy. Served 4 years with, 1 yr MAW, 3 yrs Mar Div.

  8. I did intelligence in the Navy covering Nam, China and Russia.

    To this day I am a veteran who can claim that honor and distinguished service.

    I do not understand why some Marines try to elevate themselves above others who served.

    Contrary to what some time not every Marine served in combat. Nor were they the only ones whose lives were ever in danger.

    • I concur.

      I can appreciate the service to our country, but the thought that every man or woman that has served, is somehow special and to be elevated on to some ridiculous pedestal is beyond me. People fall all over themselves wanting to make show their appreciation, but in the end most of the people that have served are every day Joe’s – good and bad.

      • I too “Live amongst MORONS” You are correct when you say not all Vets have seen combat. I’m assuming you have never served so infact you don’t know what you are talking about. When you raise your hand and take the oath you are agreeing to surrender most of your rights given to you by the Constitution.
        You become the property of the U.S. Government. They control every aspect of your life until you are discharged, scratch that, you subject to recall for 2 years after discharge. Oh, I almost forgot, you could be thrust into a battle or War with no warning and you can’t quit. If you’re lucky enough to have lived through a combat tour without burns, blindness, amputation of 1 or more parts of your body or a TBI. So you come home without physical wounds but your mental state is charged forever. Imagine you’re a 18 to 25 years old. Your home and trying to get back some sense of normal then all ofthis happens; PTSD, violent nightmares, survivors guilt, just to name a few. High divorce and unemployment rates, greater chance of substance abuse and suicide.
        It’s not lost on me that others, (Police, Firefighters etc) also deal with the fear of death. Difference is, they still have all their rights, get to go home after shift and can quit whenever they like. If you ever actually talked with a Veteran most of them don’t want the attention. So in the end, if you see someone with a hat or Tee shirt you should at least give them a hand shake and thank them for their willingness to sacrifice THEIR LIVES so you can safely sit at home and bad mouth us!
        So since I am the bigger man I’ll just say, from the bottom of my heart, You’re welcome! Have a nice day just the same.
        Like I said, MORONS!!!!

    • Then you need to get over yourself

      The Marines license stuff that sells at WalMart for anyone to wear

      The Marines are a branch of the US military and as such belong to the American people

      Insinuating that you or your fellow Marines will give some kid a butt chewing, or worse assault him, for simply wearing a non-issue t-shirt or hat makes all of us Veterans look like asinine and childish

      • As I understand it, when someone enlists in the other four branches, from day 1, they can call themselves a soldier, sailor or airman. One has to EARN the title of Marine, a title they bear for a lifetime. There is an actual day and a ritual when the title is granted. Call us names if you want to (asinine and childish) but I still retain my opinion.
        David Epps

      • To be honest and with all respect the Marines are a bigger life-changing experience than other branches from day one of boot camp (seals cone close).
        I have been in Army and Chair Force bases, it’s nasty, not locked on and squared away like we say.

        • That can go either way, I served in the Army Infantry for 5 years and worked closely with most branches, and respected them all (sorta, grunts as I’m sure SF does as well kinda looks at everyone else as second tier POGS) but that’s not the discussion here. My point is I served on a marine airbase in Iraq and well let’s just say it wasn’t the squares away marine corps that I had grown hearing about. I literally was on the px bus twice when stopped because a marine lost his rifle and they were checking everyone’s serial numbers… Losing your rifle is the ultimate sin. In a warzone I cannot even find the word to describe that.. and twice by two different Marines.. on one base.. complacency kills. The army has it also, but every branch has the highs and lows

    • Ok, we get it. Because you served in the Marine Corp, you somehow believe that the Marine Corp is the elite of the services. Well as a former US Army draftee, paratrooper, Viet Nam Veteran, (1967-1968) and combat survivor. I can truthfully say that I saw first hand what the Marine Corp accomplished in battle. I was outside Hue City with the 101st Airborne Brigade when the NVA entered the city (Tet Offense). The Marines fought bravely, but still needed assistance and support from the US Army. When Khesan was under daily attack for weeks, it again was the US Army that came in, although the battle that was expected, never materialized because the NVA retreated back across the DMZ. My message that I am trying to convey is, I think that all military arrives are just as good as the next. The marine Corp is not superior to the army, navy, air force, or coast guard. Most of us who were in Viet Nam and survived will tell you when we returned home America didn’t care what branch of service you wet in. Remember we as Vietnam Veterans were not received at home as heroes, but as evil participants who deserved to be spit on and called killers. So, my humble opinion is soldier, sailor marine, airman or coast guard we are veterans, no more no less. We should be proud to have served.

  9. Rev. Epps – Your sentiments seem odd to me. The USMC licenses merchandise with their emblems, so t-shirts and other clothing are available to the general public (for men, women, and even animals). Apparently, the Marine Corps wants their clothing distributed widely and worn by civilians.

    If this young man were wearing a USMC uniform or falsely announcing that he was a service member, I can understand your repulsion. However, he made no effort whatsoever to deceive you when you conversed with him. Merely wearing clothing that sports USMC emblems is hardly an attempt to steal valor from anyone.

    • He needed a story and invented an interaction (as he often does) for his column. This reminds me of the Red Hat column he wrote a number of weeks ago – embellished stories to gather interest and possibly prove a point. I find the embellishment of stories worse then what he’s complaining about.

      • What was embellished? You seem to be calling me a liar. Do I misunderstand you?

        make (a statement or story) more interesting or entertaining by adding extra details, especially ones that are not true.

        • If the shoe fits, wear it – or if your red MAGA hat fits, wear that. As is with human nature, those that are in positions such as yourself most likely aren’t questioned very often. I mean, most people aren’t going to question a man of the cloth, especially a Bishop in a sect of the Episcopal Church. This is clearly evident in your columns – there’s not many that question the Bishop. What I find fascinating is how you handle your interactions with people that you find fault with. It doesn’t appear that Jesus enters your thoughts. No, your ego does most of the talking. A man in your position has so many other obvious options in handling these precarious situations you always find yourself in, but alas, your ego is what is used. It’s also fairly common for older folks to lose their filter and it appears that is what is happening here. You’ve boasted elsewhere that you written well over one thousand columns for this paper. Quite a feat, but I have no doubt that there have been many embellished details – again, it’s human nature. Maybe I’m expecting too much from an Episcopal Bishop. After all, you are a mere mortal. A mere mortal who likes to appear as if he’s something more.

          • I assume by all the name calling and made up “facts” that you are a Leftist. That seems to be the go-to methodology for that group. I could be mistaken of course. There are right-wing name callers, as well. And, alas, you have me at a disadvantage. I have the courage to sign my name and stand by my comments while you, as far as I can tell, do not.
            David Epps

          • Name calling? You don’t like to referred to as a man of the cloth, Episcopal Bishop, or The Bishop? I mean, isn’t that your title? Isn’t that what you do? That is hardly name calling.

            Your response is exactly what I’m talking about when I speak of your penchant for embellishment.

            Go ahead and dig your heels in. This is going to be a long ride.

          • Bishop Epps is not a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. He is a Bishop in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. A huge difference.

    • You’re correct..but the pastor is also correct in that it’s not right to have the haircut, and the shirt to give off the sense that you are a marine/soldier etc. Technically there was nothing wrong with the what the kid did unless he attempted to get a military discount or have someone buy him a meal for serving. Other than that the pastor can have his belief and you can have yours. Yes, the kid can wear the shirt and say he’s a fan, or he supports the corps but misleading people is wrong. Seems to me the kid wanted to be a marine but couldn’t hack it, or decided college was the path instead. It’s a free country and we fight so everyone can have their opinions, but to try and pass off as a veteran or service member when you’re not is wrong.

  10. As a Veteran and US Army retiree I save my “stolen valor” outrage for three things

    1. People trying to claim awards and decorations they didn’t earn

    2. People using their military service (real or imaginary) to try and steal what is not theirs or cheat someone

    3. People who use their actual military service in such a way as to make all of the military or Veteran community look like fools

    This David Epps falls into category 3 in my book

    Trying to say that civilians aren’t entitled to “military style haircuts” or to wear items displaying support of their own military is pretty childish

    Then he doubles down and insinuates that some of his fellow Marines don’t have enough self control and will potentially assault someone for wearing clothing displaying Marine emblems

    • I have a number #4 for you Soldier.

      Stolen valor or stolen vocation is when someone falsely declares themself a veteran or a minority to take a job away from someone who actually deserves that job because he or she is an actual veteran or minority. By doing this they are cheating and stealing an income for several years from someone who came in second in that job search.

      I hope that we see that person in the form of an Native American who did not get that professor’s job at Harvard because Eliz. Warren did. Might be good to put him or her in the gallery during Trump’s Jan. 2020 State of the Union Address. NBC will then have someone else to interview on that awful morning show they have. First question – “So, since you lost the Harvard gig what have you been doing and how much have you earned?” Second question – “Any plans to sue Harvard or Warren or anyone else?”

      And then because NBC is such a research-oriented powerhouse they can follow that with actual veterans who lost out on a job to a stolen valor scum. They can put pictures up of the cheaters like they do when highlighting Trump supporters who have sinned.

    • Some vets do get angry at that but they have a right to, same as we all have the rights to say what we are saying. Assaulting someone for that is wrong, but as a veteran and seeing how some guys or gals have reacted to seeing death and the death of those close to them I can also see how someone mascarading as a service member when they’re not can be insulting. Not saying it’s right, at the end of the day everyone has their right to believe and do what they want within the law, but every veteran deals with things in our own way and sometimes the price is heavy. I could care less about praise, I personally rarely mention that I served. I don’t even ask for military discounts, though they see my usaa debit card and ask then I tell them. I don’t think people should make a big deal out of us doing our jobs. I signed up for Infantry because I wanted to fight on the frontlines, the death, and hardship experienced is all on me even if it was done for others. Having said all that I do believe vets have a right to get angry if someone pretends that they are a service member considering we are in an age where people pay for meals and gas, and help service members. If you want that praise then join. Yeah you’re free, but why wear a marine shirt, and a high and tight haircut? To show solidarity? Stolen valor is wrong,l morally and legally but in this story there may have been overreacting, but veterans served this country so that everyone can react the way they feel is’s a two way street. Sorry for the ramble but it’s not as easy as one is right and one is wrong.