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. 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.

    • 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.