Jackie McGowan takes Stolen Valor to the grave

| August 5, 2013

Jackie McGowan

We wrote about this guy, Jackie McGowan, in June when he was noticed by AverageNCO. His obituary said that he had earned 17 Bronze Stars, three Silver Stars and that he had been a POW. Well, we thought that he was too young to join the Navy, but it turns out that he joined when he was 17, so he was just barely old enough to join the war. He served on the USS Houston which had a stellar record against the Japanese Navy until it was torpedoed in the Battle of Sunda Strait on February 28, 1942 and the crew of 1061, including the Marine detachment, were killed or captured by the Japanese. All hands. Jackie McGowan enlisted 17 months later;

Jackie McGowan upgraded discharge

McGowan did serve on the USS Houston, but not until Oct 43 about 20 months after the USS Houston (CA-30) was sunk and the USS Houston was rechristened from the USS Vicksburg (CL-81);

Jackie mcGowan's assignment to USS Houston

Two years later, McGowan was awarded a dishonorable discharge for stealing from his fellow sailors and a few hours of AWOL. Then on his way to the place he was getting his discharge, he was AWOL for three days. His defense was that he was too young. It didn’t work.

Jackie McGowan CM

In 1947, he unsuccessfully tried to get his discharge disposition upgraded, and again in 1984, when he was successful getting it upgraded to a General discharge (the one you see above). He immediately filed with the VA for status as a POW, and of course, he wasn’t, so he didn’t get the distinction;

Jackie McGowan POW status

Looking at his awards, he may have served in the Pacific Theater because of the Occupation Medal with an “A” device (for Asia) for service after Sept. 2, 1945 in the theater. but there are certainly not 17 Bronze Stars or 3 Silver Stars. He’s also wearing a Purple Heart in the picture and a POW Medal, I think I see some Vietnam stuff in there, too.

Thanks to Pat for doing all of the heavy lifting on the paperwork for this one.

Category: Phony soldiers

Comments (73)

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  1. Hondo says:

    10th MTN NCO: sadly, that’s not the case. The only folks who are by law disqualified from receiving a military funeral or burial in a national cemetery based on their military record are those with a DD. Officials have broad leeway with anything other than a DD.

    The guy’s final upgraded discharge was a General, so he’s qualified for both.

    See link in comment 33 and


    I agree that an honorable discharge should be required for both – but unfortunately that’s not the law. Even a BCD isn’t an automatic bar.

  2. Combat Historian says:

    #51: In the aftermath of the Timothy McVeigh conviction and execution, didn’t Congress pass a law stating that honorably discharged veterans who committed violent felonies (or something similar)were no longer eligible for burial at a national cemetary? I know that this obviously does not apply to McGowan, but those with honorable discharges but became violent felons should now be barred from burial at a national cemetary. Is that correct?

  3. LebbenB says:

    And this is why I refuse to join the VFW/American Legion.

    I was stationed in Berlin during the mid-80s. BB Soldiers received the AOM vice the OSR. Under the rules of the VFW, Soldiers awarded the AOM were authorized to join. On PCS leave I swung by my local VFW hall and had a few drinks with some of the members. Some of the tales they spun flew in the face of other accounts I had read or been told about by others. I thanked them for their time and their service, then left.

    I got with my Grandfather and great uncles (WWII and Korea vets) as well as my uncles (Viet Nam vets) and asked them about the local VFW and why they didn’t join. To a man they said, “Those guys are full of shit.”

    Some things never change.

  4. Hondo says:

    Combat Historian: I seem to remember that as well, but I’m not certain. Will be a while until I can look into it – today looks to be nasty time-wise.

  5. jabatam says:


    From this article…


    “The crux of the controversy centers on the rules for interment outlined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The ineligibility guidelines say in part, ‘Federal officials may not inter in Veterans cemeteries persons who are shown by clear and convincing evidence to have committed a Federal or State capital crime but were unavailable for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution.'”

    There’s no source though

  6. MGySgtRet. says:

    What a self serving piece of shit Mr. McGowan was. A thief, oxygen thief and valor thief. The dirtbag tri-fecta.

  7. bobble says:

    LebbenB @ 53:

    Like all volunteer organizations, there is only so much paperwork that volunteer leaders (i.e., Post Commanders in this case) at the grass-roots level will tolerate before throwing up their hands, walking out and finding something else to do. They’ve got private lives to live also. We can complain about the active members full of crap and the bullsh*t stories they tell in the organization and bitch and moan about how leadership should be filing FOIA’s till their pens run out of ink, or we could run for and be elected Post Commander and actually do it ourselves. Which would be more effective in weeding out any fakers? How much available time have you got on your hands?

    While I understand your point of view regarding VFW/American Legion membership, I see it as both organizations serve as effective (relatively speaking) methods of making the concerns of veterans heard in the halls of Congress. Without organizations like these, who is going buttonhole Congress-critters, and with a concerned and viable voting/communicating force behind them? I’ve been a VFW Life member since 1995, and I’ve only been to my Post twice (once to learn about it, once to turn in my membership application). But the point is that I’m an additional number on the rolls of the organization, making it just that little bit more influential in advocating for veteran’s rights and benefits. There’s power in numbers, and I can’t think of any other game in town to accomplish what they do in that respect.

    Has the VFW relaxed their standards for membership by changing the experience/awards requirements (re. AOM vs OSR you’ve given as an example)? Maybe so, but again, the more members they have, the more effective they are in DC and at the State level. Like just about anything, it’s a trade-off. As the membership shrinks, it becomes more and more of a social club and less and less of a political advocacy force to be reckoned with by the pol’s in power.

    JMHO. And no, I’m not getting paid by them to post this.



  8. locker says:

    AL/VFWs are infested with fakes….great reason not to join. It would make me ill to have to rub shoulders with all these shitheads, plus get charged for the ‘privilege.’
    If vets orgs can’t police themselves any better than this, they deserve to die off.

  9. Jonn Lilyea says:

    Actually, I think that more real troops should join the VFW/AL just to help them ferret out their phonies. The organizations do a job at the national level that no one else is willing to do, if we let the phonies take over, they’ll only remain there for themselves and not for the whole community of veterans. To say that you’re not joining the VSOs because of the few phonies that are there is only hurting the cause of veterans everywhere.

  10. TheCloser says:

    You would think that at least one person at this VFW Post would point out that the Post Commander’s ribbons are out of order and he forgot his Silver Star in his official photo (probably hanging in the lobby for his four years as commander). Perhaps it’s a phonies only VFW Post.

  11. locker says:

    I’d dispute the term ‘few.’ Its apparent that a measureable percentage of VFW/AL members are phonies, and not only that, a significant percentage of THOSE aren’t just spear-carriers, but go right to the top of their organization.

    And in many cases, even when confronted with irrefutable evidence of the fakery, the ‘leadership’ denies, evades, avoids real action. They don’t police, they enable.

    No thanks. I deal with enough shitheads involuntarily on a daily basis–don’t need to seek any more out to fill my dance card.

  12. Combat Historian says:

    Back in 2010 when the VFW PAC endorsed Nasty Piglosi for Speaker of the House and Dingy Harry for Senate Majority Leader, I vowed I will never ever join the VFW; I intend to stay true to that vow…

  13. David says:

    y’know, it’s easy to yell at the vets groups for not self-policing better – but sometimes it’s a little harder to look at someone you may have known for half your life and decide to run a background check to find out if he’s shading the truth, outrght lying, or maybe – hopefully- telling the truth. It’s the old ‘speck in your neighbor’s eye’ thing…

    The only real solution is to verify their DD214 BEFORE they join, but even when you do and verify their service how do you control what comes out of their mouth afterward? Look how many posers outted here had decent albeit unexciting stints in service – but afterwards their KP morphs into SEAL or SF derring-do. 20 years later, the best DD214 check in the world may have been swamped by decades of BS and beer talk – and by then the clown may be everyone’s best friend. I’m not defending either the posers or the groups – but I don’t think it is as simple a matter as some seem to.

  14. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @63. I agree. James Ferris immediately comes to mind. Hell, this “combat veteran” and wearer oif medals not his was feted by many for years. I imagine that the very thought of someone looking into his actual record would have made the suggester a target.

  15. Hondo says:

    David, 2/17 Air Cav: agreed – if by “verify”, you mean “ask NPRC”.

    Accepting documentation provided by the individual without verification against official records is simply not sufficient any more. They’re simply too easy to fake, and – illegal or not – some folks will do it in a heartbeat.

    The key IMO would be to have the individual sign a SF180 (or other form) giving NPRC permission to send the VSO copies of ALL DD214’s and DD215s (or equivalent documents, for those relatively few World War II vets still around) in the individual’s files. Membership should be in a provisional status until the reply is received from NPRC.

    A different, but similar, process would be needed for those on active duty, but one could indeed be developed.

    Sad? Yes. But it’s today’s reality.

  16. LebbenB says:

    @57. The reason BB Soldiers received the AOM instead of the OSR is because up until the fall of the Wall in 1989, West Berlin was considered an occupied area. VFW rules allowed a service member/former service member to join if they had been part of an occupying force. It wasn’t any sort of “relaxed standard” as you so haughtily maintain.

    Your attempt to denigrate the award and by implication my service in Berlin only reinforces my opinion of your organization.

  17. bobble says:

    @66 –

    I did not attempt to denigrate the award referenced or your service by implication of what I wrote in any way. I simply thought that was what you were indicating by mentioning the change in award titles needed to apply to be a VFW member. But I understand now that it was that change in award titles that was the motivation for you to visit your local VFW hall. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  18. Just An Old Dog says:

    Shit is sad. There was that old saying about “heroes having feet of clay”. How many posers got away will filling up the VFW halls with their bullshit for decades before the advent of the internet and availabilty of records?
    Today one of my friends on FB posted an obituary about a WW2 vet that passed away.
    He had a VFW hat on with three ribbons, A silver star, a bronze star and a campaign ribbon. His obit was part of what supposedly he said in the past and his son’s story.
    He talked about being a cook in the prewar Army in Hawaii. He was turned away at first because his chest was only 30″ instead of the required 32″. When the war broke out he was “sent to Europe to train with the 1st Infantry Division”, He was a Sgt on DDay and recalled pushing bodies out of the way to get to the beach.
    His son said he got both the Bronze star and Silver Star for throwing a grenade down the hatch of a Tiger tank. He also was woulded, awarded a purple heart and medevaced from France in 1945.
    Some of the stuff don’t add up.He’s not on the list of Silver star recipients from WW2, which could just be an omission and the “grenade down the hatch” is something from Sgt Rock comic books.
    The thing is that when I see ANYTHING about someone being a “hero” my radar goes off.
    I hate being a pessimist.

  19. LostOnThemInterwebs says:

    @68 not to be evil but … Tiger hatches were designed not to let grenades in, so most of the taking out had to be done by putting a magnetic charge on the side of the turret ring (it would technically be in the 7 position) and as far as I can tell can they give you 2 medals from one action? I’ve never heard of it but I guess it can be?

    and for today’s LOTI deranged story (it’s JUst and Old Dog’s fault for his story to trigger mine) …

    A few months ago I went to one of the bay area gun shows (this one was at the San Jose Fair, where the regional crossfit games were held) it wasn’t big but it was nice, and there were 2 vets with a table and they had a bunch of stuff, funny enough one part had displays and all and the other if I recall correctly had 1 Arisaka (Errr maybe type 38? or type 44 but I was guessing 38) anyway I was looking at the stuff and he had some small stuff I liked, it looked from around that time but it was a canteen, a helmet, the rifle, and other 2 small things. I asked for the price and the guy showing it off said “that’s his” … it was this guy, probably around the 80s so kinda fit the time I started talking to him and he started to tell me all that, he showed me the little things (it was a small box exquisite to be honest and I don’t remember what else) and tell me a bit of the story, but what caught me is that when he started talking he would smile, he REALLY liked this things so got me thinking “what the heck?” so he then talked about the rifle and I was expecting the awesome war story of “I took it and took the hill by myself” he looked at it and smiled and I said “so, any story?” he looked at me and said “Son, not everything has to be brave, this one I picked it up … after everything was done” so I asked how much he wanted, he shrugged and didn’t seem to really just be able to put a price. So I asked him if I could know why he was selling, he hung his head and mumbled something about his granddaughter’s graduation from college if I recall correctly.

    And Yes I’m an idiot, yes I’m emotional … yes .. so I smiled and said “well tell ya what I wanted to buy an AR-15 but I’ll buy your rifle and the lot how 800 bucks feel?” he smiled and said yes, he grabbed all the stuff and I saw it … it took him a LOOOONG time to pack everything (kid you not .. maybe … 20 minutes?) specially that small cute looking box wrapped it in paper and put it in another bag.

    Then I did my douchebag trick!!! (yes, I’m an ass what can I say) I went ahead and paid him the money and got the stuff, stretched his hand and stood there and said “you forgot your bags” he looked at me and said “this is yours, thank you for your service just don’t go selling this again, keep it and treasure it” … his smile was worth anything

    When I was leaving the other guy smiled and said “thank you, sarge here is a bit quiet but he is ok” so I asked if he served with him and said “yeah, okinawa” and I said “hardcore, first wave?” and the guys said “nah, I wouldn’t be standing here” and he nodded and said “but …” and just smiled at the guy … he NEVER said anything so I roamed around and then went home, stupidly feeling better because I think I helped someone who knows but hey one can try right? …

    at least for me .. heros are the quiet ones that do their job everyday, do it well and make sure everyone is safe, but then again what do I know ๐Ÿ˜›

    And now is time for bed! peace!
    End of the rambling from LOTI

  20. A Proud Infidel & Patriot says:

    As a kid during the 70’s and early 80’s, I remember my Great Uncle Charlie, he was “That cool Uncle”, and I loved every minutw i got to spend with him. I never even had the slightest idea that he had ever served, he never even gave the slightest hint of it! A few years after he passed away, my Mom told me that yeah, he WAS a WWII Vet, and that he had served in the Pacific Front fighting the Japanese, and after he had gotten back Stateside, he never talked about it. I’ve known a few that have been there, done that, (Vets whose tamer overseas missions would make my ME ones look like Girl Scout cookie runs)and my experience is that the ones who have done the most talk about it the least, let alone wear it on their clothes every day in Civilian life! A friend and coworker of mine once told me about his Dad, who was also a WWII Army Vet who also fought there, and he didn’t have a clue about the details until after his Dad passed away and he read his service records, he too, never talked about it.

  21. Just An Old Dog says:

    When I was a kid one of my uncles ( by Marriage) would bring his brother with him to my grandma’s when we had occasional get togethers.
    I was only about 5 years old or so at the time. His name was Bobby and he was missing the tips of his fingers on his right hand. Being a curious kid I asked him what happened. He told me when he was younger he fell asleep with his hand hanging off the side of the bed and the rats chews them off.
    For a few years I was scared as hell of rats eating my fingers.
    Years later I found out he lost his fingers from frostbite in Korea.

  22. Hondo says:

    Lost: any infantryman in World War II who received a CIB was later “deemed worthy” of receiving a Bronze Star. That decision was a one-time exemption to policy, unique to World War II. So the Bronze Star might not have been from that action, but as the result of the man having received a CIB during the war.

    Regarding the Tiger hatch issue: if the hatch was either open or not properly secured, it would at least be theoretically be possible for an infantryman to throw a grenade down same. Not saying that’s what happened; I don’t know either way. But the hatch being resistant wouldn’t categorically rule out what is described.

    I don’t know either way.

    And for what it’s worth: lists of World War II Silver Star recipients for the Army are notoriously incomplete. Many were awarded in the field (either Division or Corps was award authority, I think), and no central list was maintained.

  23. John Ayres says:

    As a past Commander for 9 straight years at McGowan’s former post, I’ll add to this subject. First of all, McGowan was impeached by our membership when he was a Commander at VFW 1152. I’ve always had questions about his claims. When I quit running for Commander, we had over 1000 members. It would have been a hard task to go through all those memberships to look for documentation. When McGowan died, he was not a member of our post, and transferred to VFW 8035, because he was pissed at our post. When I was Commander we had a committee that verified applications in order to make sure the applicant was qualified (DD214). Their was a lot of stuff going on before I became Commander in 2003 that I did not like or agree with. Now our post is looked up to by others as a leading post. I was an “All-American” Commander 3 times, and “All-State” 4 times. That’s nearly impossible to do if you don’t play by the rules. The main problem was that VFW 1152 was run like a bar rather than a veterans organization before I was elected Commander. We now do more for vets & troops in a month than other local veteran organizations do in a year.