Charles Austin Vanderburg; phony hero

| December 21, 2012

Brandon sent us a link several weeks ago in regards to Charles Austin Vanderburg who was the subject of a local story in a California newspaper, the Press Enterprise. The article has now disappeared, but the line in question was;

Vanderburg was awarded 18 medals including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Air Force Cross for heroism and a Purple Heart during his 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. The war is part of his persona. His medals are on display in his apartment. He wears a hat denoting his Silver Star.

The Press Enterprise removed the article when they heard that Doug Sterner and Mary were on the case, so they retracted the article and the link now has this statement on it;

The Press-Enterprise received numerous calls and emails from veterans and veterans’ organizations questioning whether Vanderburg actually had received these honors.

Documents from the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, show that Vanderburg did not earn these four medals, nor did he serve in Vietnam. He was in the Air Force from 1967 to 1987, the records state.

Vanderburg said Tuesday, Nov. 13, that his account was accurate, but he could not provide documentation related to any of his medals.

So, he’s still clinging to his lies. Good for him, however, here are his records;

Charles Austin Vanderburg

20 years of service wasn’t enough, he had to shine it up with an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. It doesn’t look like he even went to a combat zone let alone earn those medals. He certainly wasn’t in an occupation that would have put him in a position to earn any of those medals, generally. So the war is part of his lyin’-ass personae, huh?

He wanted attention, he’s got it now.

Category: Air Force, Phony soldiers

Comments (41)

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  1. Jabatam says:

    ID “ten” Tango! Must not have been all that stellar because a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force is an E-5. You’d be RCP’d in the Army once you hit 15 as an E-5

  2. CBSenior says:

    So he was a bag of Ass, but he was our bag of Ass, until this. What a shame that 20 yrs of service is not enough. Too bad. I guess little men need big stories.

  3. Green Thumb says:


    My thoughts exactly.

    Guy was ovioulsy a turd. 20 years and E-5?

    Roger that.

  4. FatCircles0311 says:

    How do these types of stories even get started? Do these phonies contact the reporters telling them how awesome they are and how everybody else needs to know this important information?

  5. Hondo says:

    Good point, Jabatam. I’m wondering if a Field Grade Article 15 and reduction might have happened after he hit sanctuary (18 years active). Can anyone with a USAF background in the 1980s help out here? Is that plausible, or were 20-year E5s common in the USAF then?

  6. Hack Stone says:

    Don’t judge too harshly. I have seen quite a few USAF guys retire as E-5’s. The Air Force is way more generous on the move up or move out philosophy. It’s a great place to hide out if you don’t watch too much responsibility. When I was working Joint Command at the pentagon, I had TSgt that wanted a waiver to exceed twenty years. He just submitted some paperwork asking “Can I stay beyond twenty” (paraphrasing here). I told him that probably won’t fly, since he is asking the Air Force to bend the rules for him. I told him that he has to put down why it would be in the best interest of the Air Force that he stay beyond twenty. He said that wasn’t necessary, all you have to do is ask, and they waive it for you. Sounded strange to me. I talked to the Senior Enlisted, a CMSgt, and he said, “Yeah, if they ask for it, it always gets waived”. So why have that regulation if it is routine to waive it? Maybe one of our Air force brothers can explain that.

  7. Just an Old Dog says:

    When all the space shuttle door gunner records are unclassified we are all going to be consuming a lot of crow…..

    For real though, how many people that actually are awarded a silver star go around with it emblazoned on a fuggin hat?

  8. Ex-PH2 says:

    Oh, this one takes me back. When I was at NPC, this bosun’s mate was transferred to the naval station. Saying he was a pig is an insult to pigs. He was absolutely the bottom of the barrel in every way. I won’t go into the details, but he tried grab-ass on a WAVE LtJG. When that little dustup died down, he was retired as a BMSN, after 20 years of service.

    Out of curiosity, I asked someone I worked with how he had managed to stay in the service as long as he had. The answer was that he’d get promoted to BM2 or BM1, then busted down for massive infractions of various kinds and gradually work his way back up. He was a guidebook for screwing up. I don’t think he’d make it in the Navy now, but he somehow survived 20 years by staying in his department out of sight of the rest of the crew, or something like that.

  9. Twist says:

    Why oh why do these people want to pump up their records after honorable service? I’m proud of my VUA and the other awards (without v) that I have recieved. Why does everyone have to be a war hero? I know the last one was a question I already knew the answer to.

  10. Chip@NASA says:

    I was in from 1984 to 2007 and yes it’s entirely possible to retire as a SSgt. We had a 20 year Staff in Okinawa when I was a wee airman. DUMB as a box of rocks and no social skills. Could never get the points on the test to make Tsgt, maxed his leave cause he never took any AND lived in the DORM to boot. One year they MADE him take leave cause he had like 90 days of leave and it was use ior lose and they didn’t want that on their record (The NCOIC) and he took off a week and hung out at the dorm, then he cam and kept hanging out around work in civies. UFB {;-D

  11. Ex-PH2 says:

    Twist, when Star Trek: Next Gen was popular, the rather obssessive behavior of some fans got the media’s attention. One man, who was an accounting clerk — something like that — in his day-to-day life was a Starfleet captain in his imaginary life. He went into whatever ‘mode’ you go into when an emergency arose, donned his Starfleet uniform and went into action doing service in those emergencies.

    He had awards for things like raising money for a pet rescue and for the local food pantries, collecting for Toys for Tots.

    But he said he could not do these things as an ordinary human being. He couldn’t wake up whatever part of his personality it is that woke up when he put on the Starfleet gear. It doesn’t make any sense, and I can’t explain it, but that’s what he said, and he didn’t come off as an attention whore, either.

    So there is something of the same thing in people like this Vanderburg — they have to be one better than they are because WHO they are is somehow just not good enough. I don’t know how else to put it.

  12. Hondo says:

    Hack Stone, Chip: thanks for the input. That would have been rather hard to pull off in the Army (retiring as an E5) – normally the Army had a pretty “hard stop” RCP @15 yrs max for E5. But each service is different, hence the request for comments.

    The only guy I ever knew personally who retired as lower than E6 with 20+ years did so as an E3 after a courts-martial. As I understand it, his retirement had already been approved before he got in trouble and the judge and/or CMCA apparently decided to cut him some slack. (He was under the old “final pay” system for calculation of retired pay, so he didn’t get off that easy.)

  13. Hack Stone says:

    When I was down at Camp Lejeune back in 1986-88 time frame, there was a MGySgt that got busted the night before his retirement for making/selling crack. It must have been pretty awkward the following morning while everyone was in formation for his retirement ceremony, and someone made an announncement for evryone to just go back to work. Maybe the guy didn”t have the salesmanship skills to sell AMWAY.

  14. Chip@NASA says:

    @12 Hondo, I was just curious and I googled it and the USAF just changed their high year tenure rule (the max years you can stay in before you’re not allowed to reenlist if you’re not promoted.) in 2011 and it takes affect in 2013 but the old info was (according to the article):
    ” High year of tenure limits for senior airman (E-4) will be reduced from 10 years to eight years; staff sergeant (E-5) 20 years to 15 years; and technical sergeant (E-6) 22 years to 20 years.”

  15. Make Mine Moxie says:

    As Chip stated, AF’s HYT was 20 years for an E-5, until just recently. As recently as 2009, I was TDY to the U.A.E. with a dirtbag SSgt who had 19-sum years in service and was planning on retiring at 20 years and one day when he got back to the states.

    That being said, the community within the AF who earn Air Force Crosses and Silver Stars is extremely small, and the list of awardees is pretty short. If an aircraft maintenance troop EVER was awarded an Air Force Cross, the mx community would never, ever shut up about it. What a douchebag.

  16. Green Thumb says:


    Thats bad.


  17. Green Thumb says:

    When I was a young private at FT. McNair we had a 1SG screwing the FRG crowd while in the field. No shit.

    We kinda liked the guy before that because he was all about sports and time off. Anyway, they pulled his diamond, transfered him to Ft Belvoir and retired him on the spot (18 years) a an E-8 (MSG).

    Odd, huh? Keep in mind that this was peace time Army as well. And TOG no less.

  18. I guess the public thinks it’s the number of awards (medals and ribons) that are important, not how they earned or what they’re for.
    I ended up with a bunch of “been there” thingys…that look pretty and shit, but really don’t mean much. There are a few that are special to me…like the “KP Action Ribbon with clusters” for doing KP in the field without getting dish pan hands.

    As soon as some knuckelhead claims Silver Stars and above, I start to wonder…

  19. AverageNCO says:

    Chip & Moxie stole all my thunder; new High Year Tenure rule will bring the end to the 20-year E5. In 19 years I’ve only worked with two folks who retired as an E5. One was when I was a two-striper, so I don’t remember his story. The other one was recently, and she stated she made no effort to study for her promotion exams because she had no desire to assume a leadership role. She only wanted to be a worker-bee. Even though it was still within regs, a 20-year SSgt. raised a lot of eyebrows.
    Regarding his AF Cross claim. WHAT A DOUCHE! By my count there have only been 26 enlisted Air Force Cross recipients. Most of them were pararescuemen or combat controllers, but a few of them actually were mechanics. But they were flight mechanics on helicopters during Veitnam. This guy was a C5 crew chief. Even if he was an in flight crew cheif, the C5 isn’t exactly a “Special Ops Platform”

  20. RunPatRun says:

    High tenure or not, dude is a dirtball now, and most likely a dirtball then.

  21. USMCE8Ret says:

    Why does the media report on these people to begin with? Are they high-vis people in the community to start with, or provide some sort of commendable service that would render them the exposure? It just seems to me there’s a lot of news agencies reporting on heroics nowadays, and we come to find their service isn’t substantiated?

    Now – I’m no reporter, but I was always under the impression that responsible journalism involved verifying facts before reporting them, so retractions and such didn’t happen?

  22. kp32 says:

    USMCE8Ret- You’ve hit the nail right on the head… responsible journalism has become an oxymoron.

    Verifying facts is too much like work.

    I get the impression that printing anything remotely resembling the truth would cause journalists to suffer the ridicule of their peers.

  23. Just Plain Jason says:

    This just in Code Pink Disrupts, Code Pink Disruption!

  24. Just Plain Jason says:

    Oops…sorry that was supposed to be on a different post…

  25. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    With a name like Charles Austin Vanderburg, he makes me think of the AF character in the Ranger Up videos.

    Gaaaaaaaad Damit.

  26. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    Damn. SOB’s initials are CAV.

  27. Stacy0311 says:

    @18-no shit on being around a while and collecting shiny things. The one I’m most proud of was my second Good Conduct Medal. I received that one on the same day as my 3rd NJP. As in comedy, timing is everything!

  28. Hack Stone says:

    Correcting myself on post #6. The AF guy at the Pentagon was a SSgt, not TSgt. Hack Stone sincerely regrets the error.

  29. Hack Stone says:

    Okay, Stacey0311, no way you ae getting away with that post without filling us in on the details. I’ll get you started. “This is no shit……”

  30. Stacy0311 says:

    ok this is no shit, there I was. Nothing but a reflective belt and a light coat of CLP.
    NJP #1 was sometime in 87 (after 1st GCM), NJP #2 was July 89. NJP#3 was Sep 92. Simple math. With processing time for awards, GCM #2 showed right around the time of NJP#3. And it helped that the admin didn’t like the CO who awarded me NJP#3 so the might’ve tweaked the timing a bit. NJP#1 and #2 were for stupid shit (aren’t they all) but # 3 was a good one. Disrespect of a SNCO and disobeying a lawful order. I got into a pissing contest with a detachment Gunny who wanted to put me on remedial PT for falling out on a run. Ignoring the fact that it was a flight deck run on a carrier and the reason I “fell out” was because I tripped on a tie down chain. And FYI, “Non-skid” isn’t. Said pissing contest occured on the MarDet quarter deck with blood running down my leg. And about 15 witnesses who were stuck dumb, blind and deaf when asked to testify at the NJP. Other than the XO, the entire CoC in the detachment was about as well like as a syphylittic LBFM in Olangapo

  31. LostBoys says:

    @21 As the resident lowlife reporter/editor at TAH (currently on sabbatical in Afghanistan) I’ll answer the question, “Why does the media report on these people to begin with?”
    You’ll notice that these stories usually start with local weeklies. I ran a weekly for about five years and the reason weeklies survived while the big dailies were failing is hyper-local news. You look for hometown heroes to balance out the arson fires and meth lab busts. So when you’re staring at a blank page and someone says, “You should interview my Papaw, he fought in the war,” you jump on it. Here’s an example of one I did,,0,4695645.story
    In this case, I didn’t try to pull National Records; everything this guy said added up: the units, movements, timing and the best one, “I never fired my rifle.”
    I was lucky, as a retired jarhead, my bullshit meter is fairly finely tuned so I would pass on the obvious fakers, but a lot of my colleagues would jump on these stories and not do their homework. I’m not saying it’s right, but in small towns, people don’t like to believe bad things about their communities. It used to drive me nuts that when someone was indicted for crimes up to an including murder, I’d hear people say they didn’t believe it because the accused went to their church, I shit you not. So, while a small-town editor might not have the resources or time to research a story, he also probably doesn’t have the inclination to call bullshit on some locally cherished myth about what someone did in the war.
    I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens a lot.

  32. USMCE8Ret says:

    @30 – That’s simply a shame that the Gy didn’t have the common sense to see the situation for what it was. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what was said to render the offense as “Disrespect towards a SNCO”. Still, someone should have had the balls to properly advise the CO of what had happened, and perhaps advise against NJP, AND to step up and testify to clear the air. After all, Senior Enlisted are supposed to advise the commander, with temperance and fairness, in such situations.

  33. Anonymous says:

    @32-Oh I earned that NJP. I WAS direspectful and I DID disobey a lawful order. Nicest office hours I’ve ever been to. Had the whole detachment (less the guys on duty) up in the f’oc’sle in Dress Blue Bravos. Read the charges and the whole 9 yards. 14 days pay and 30 days restriction and 30 days extra duty.
    But it was all tossed on appeal because the 1SG screwed up when he read me my rights AND the CO exceeded his authority in awarding punishment.

  34. USMCE8Ret says:

    Understood. Good on the appeal authority for granting relief, then – since it was loused up from the get go. If nothing else, I’m sure you learned a little something.

    Like I said, senior enlisted are supposed to be there to advise the commander on such issues, and to use a plastic wiffle ball bat and hit ’em on the back of the head, saying, “That’s a bad idea, sir.”

  35. Stacy0311 says:

    Yep, I learned not to be such a flaming douchenozzle when I was a SNCO nor later when I became a CO

  36. Billmill says:

    What a total dirt bag, this guy was an aircraft crew chief and judging by his 214 not a very good one. There are many additional maintenance courses you can go to for formal training and he doesn’t have any of those listed. With his service time it hard to imagine he didn’t make it to Vietnam or Thailand, but he didn’t. With two long overseas tours he probably rode out SEA in USAFE. My last assignment as a SNCO was with the 334 FS at Seymour Johnson, I had two of these twenty year E-5’s in my Specialist flight, they were both equally worthless but made great tool room attendants.
    As far as the career field to be awarded the Air Force Cross, six Airmen who were all helicopter mechanics including TSgt Leroy Wright who was on the Son Tay raid were all awarded the Air Force Cross. The rest of the 26 total awards to enlisted , one of which awarded to A1/C William Pitsenbarger was upgraded to a MOH were almost all PJ’S and CCT’S or other air crew members.

  37. Joe Williams says:

    CAV(had to do it Air Cav)scan your orders for the Air Force Cross and send it to Jonn. Joe

  38. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    Retire an E-5?!? In the “Old Corps” if you didn’t have E-5 by 10 it was ‘crisscross n toodle-loo’. If you couldn’t get E-6 by 14(?),d hasta la vista baby. I only saw one SSgt (E-6) retire at 20 and he was the Bn. XO’s pet!

    Just for my own information, how long was this guy an E-5? If it would have been possible for me to retire at 20 as an E-5, I’da been an 18 yr Sgt!?

  39. Hack Stone says:

    YatYas, when I was at 3rd Tracks (March 83 – April 84), I recall a SSgt retiring. Can’t recall his name or MOS, but other than one 25XX is saw retire from 7th Comm BN in 1997, those are the only two SSgt’s I have ever seen retire in the Marine Corps.