It’s always the math that gets ’em

| June 12, 2013

Jackie McGowan

Average NCO who apparently spends all his time reading obituaries across the country, sends us a link to the obituary of one Jackie “Jack” McGowan from Kokomo Indiana;

Jackie “Jack” McGowan Sr., 86, Kokomo, passed away at 1:21 p.m. Sunday, June 9, 2013, in his home. He was born April 14, 1927 in Blunt County, Ala. to the late William M. and Leona L. (Elkins) McGowan. On Oct. 9, 1946, Jack married Annie B. Todd, and they were happily married until her passing Jan. 30, 2006.

Jack served with the Navy early in life, and was a prisoner of war during World War II. During his military career he earned 17 Bronze Stars, three Silver Stars and several other medals.

OK, if his birthday is correct, he turned 18 three weeks before VE Day and four months before VJ Day. There was a POW named John McGowan in the Navy who was lost in 1942 when Jackie was 15, but John’s remains weren’t recovered. While it’s entirely possible that McGowan enlisted before VJ Day and therefore qualified to be in the VFW, it doubtful that he saw enough action to earn 17 fricken Bronze Stars or be a POW. And yes, it’s certainly possible that he enlisted at 17 or sneaked into the service at 16, but a 16 year-old POW might have been news even then. He’s wearing the POW medal on his ribbon rack, so that’s not his family getting something wrong out of ignorance in the obit. And there are a couple of Vietnamese medals in there, too, but the obit doesn’t say anything about Vietnam.

The 17 Bronze Stars and Silver Stars I’ll chalk up to the family getting his record wrong, but the rest of it just has a funny smell to it.

Category: Phony soldiers

Comments (46)

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  1. ChipNASA says:

    I’d get all indigent about this one but as a famous Doctor we all know, said quite often…”He’s Dead Jim…”
    /Annnddd then the family finds out after the fact he’s a HUGE BS artist to add salt to their wounds.

  2. Sam says:

    17 bronze stars? Here’s hoping it’s a misprint or the media f’d up. UGH

  3. Bobo says:

    Interestingly, the only WW II campaign medal that he’s sporting is the American Campaign. The last time I checked, we weren’t taking our own sailors prisoner. He’s also got three silver stars, or 15 awards, on the ribbon. My quick research shows that there are only nine campaigns that allow the award, but my father has one on his DD-214 for, I’m assuming, riding his ship from the shipyard in Boston to the Pacific, so I could be off.

    The three silver stars on the ACM could be the three silver stars alluded to in the obit. I have no idea where they are getting the 18 bronze stars, though.

    He’s also wearing a sea service ribbon, which wasn’t authorized until 1980 and awarded retroactively to 1974.

  4. USMCE8Ret says:

    What kind of marksmanship/qualification badge is he wearing? I didn’t think squids wore those, but sported ribbons instead? It looks suspiciously familiar.

    Also, if he served in the Pacific, wouldn’t there be a corresponding ribbon to denote that?

  5. Bobo says:

    He’s also missing the Navy Occupation Medal. He should have had one for service in the Pacific from 2 Sep 1945 until 27 Apr 1952.

    My guess is that he got into the Navy just before the end of the war and never left the US.

  6. Bobo says:

    USMCE8Ret – He should have an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal for any time around Japan in WW II.

  7. LostOnThemInterwebs says:

    17 bronze stars … is that even possible at all? even at a rate of one a year that’s 17 years out of straight bronze stars? … this dude just went plaid

  8. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    I know 17 Bronze Stars and 3 Silver Stars sounds like alot!

    What he meant to say was … 11 Bronze Stars and free Silver Stars!

  9. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @2. Yeah, it’s a misprint. It was supposed to be 71, not 17. Hey, when I kick off, I’m going to give you guys something to talk about for months. It all starts with the Bay of Pigs…

  10. AverageNCO says:

    Okay, just for the record, here’s the routine. Wake up, shower, throw on the uniform (sans boots), intake some form of caffeine product, click on Sports Center, open the laptop, go to Bing News, and I do four news searches with certain words in quotations, and see what pops up. Honestly, I don’t bother sending Jonn the bulk of obituaries I see, but with the photo and the 17 Bronze Stars I couldn’t resist this one. This tried and true research method has led me to Stolen Valor Tourney participants such as, Jason Truitt, David Groves, Jerry Partain, Terry Sallada, and Richard Ortega. Jonn I’ll try to hold off on the obits unless they’re really flagrant. Of course Jonn does know I did encounter my first live phony in April. Mary and Hondo got the records. I’m in the process of giving him one last chance to apologize to the appropriate people’s he has duped..I’m not really expecting that to happen…so stay tuned for a fun one.

  11. beretverde says:

    Ashes to ashes dust to dust…fuck him.

  12. LostOnThemInterwebs says:

    I have a ridiculous question as I’ve used my google-fu and have failed (my technique is no good!) … so if I recall correctly:

    If you get your first bronze star, you can pin it, then the second will add I believe is a leaf or a star to show more than 1 has been received am I correct? if so .. 16 stars would surely wouldn’t even fit or I’m as usual mistaken?

  13. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @10. We like Jonn’s version much better. You stay up all hours reading nothing but obits, don’t you?

    “Honey! Come to bed.”

    “I’ll be a minute. I’ve got one more page of obits to read.”

    “Hey Mike, done with that paper?”

    “No, but you can have the Sports section.”

    “No thanks. But I’ll take the obits if you’re done.”

  14. Andy says:

    @12, the devices used to show additional awards, be they oak leaves, or stars, change colors to indicate higher numbers of awards. Don’t quote me, but I believe it’s usually bronze, silver gold. the most of any one award I ever received was a Army Commendation medal (ARCOM) 4th award, so I have three bronze oak leafs on it. I think, but could be wrong that the most I would have been able to use the bronze for would be 5th award. Then for the 6th award I would have switched to a sing silver. again, I’ve been out for awhile and I never really had a need to indicate that many awards for anything I received.

  15. TheCloser says:

    @14- You are correct.

    @12- He would have three silver stars and a bronze star, on his Bronze Star to indicate 17 awards.

  16. QMC says:

    @12, @14 It is possible he has a total of 17 bronze stars on various ribbons, if they are counting each silver as five, but I don’t know how the hell that’s possible with a world war two era sailor.

    In my relatively recent twenty one year fairly standard
    Navy (no valor awards, and a CAR awarded only for being afloat in the PG during the first Iraq War) career, during this era of rampant awards inflation, and despite having enough geegaws to look like a Banana Republic field Marshal, I still don’t think all the “subsequent awards of the same award” bronze/silver stars add up to 17.

    So, either the family is confused, the dead guy was a sack of shit, or both.

  17. QMC says:

    P.S. I’m thinking he never actually wore the three silver stars and 17 bronze stars while he was post commander.

  18. Dano says:

    Notice on the photo it is written – Post Commander 1990 to 1994. Wonder if there are any members of that VFW that are now wondering WTF?

  19. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    Bubba: Come over here sweetness!

    Ladner: Arg, uh, argggle, uuhhh, aaarrgggleee.

    Bubba: You so nice sweetness!

  20. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    Sh*t …. wrong post!

  21. Bill R. says:

    Yes, this guy is a phony but did you know the youngest Marine Medal of Honor recipient had just turned 17 when he earned his MOH on Iwo Jima. My own father forged my grandfather’s signature to enlist at 17 in July 1942. I guess all I’m trying to say is times were different then and the math isn’t always right.

  22. TheCloser says:

    @17- In the picture (which looks like an official VFW post pic) he appears to be wearing three Silver Stars (below the Purple Heart) and one Bronze Star.

    As is typical of posers, his precendence isn’t even close to correct, despite the google machine.

  23. Hondo says:

    Have to differ with you on the NOSM, Bobo. Receiving the NOSM appears to have required actually being assigned to occupation duty in Japan or Korea, not merely shipboard service in the AOR.

    My dad served in the Pacific in World War II, including shipboard service near Japan immediately after the surrender. Since he’d received the Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal for that shipboard service and wasn’t assigned to occupation duties, he didn’t rate the NOSM.

  24. Hondo says:

    TheCloser: I think the ribbon on which he’s wearing the stars (e.g., the one immediately below the PH) is the American Theater Campaign Medal vice the Silver Star.

    If so, it’s not in the correct order where it is – it should come after his GCM, not before.

  25. AverageNCO says:

    @21 Bill,you’re absolutely right. You’re talking about Jack Lucas. I had the honor of getting to know Jack while I was on recruiting duty in Hattiesburg, MS. Jack was able to convince a Marine recruiter he was 17, when he was actually only 14. However, unlike our pal McGowan here, Jack Lucas’ story is well documented. Just google his name, and you there is a wealth of information about him. Unlike McGowan who only has this obituary to back up his claims. And as crazy as Jack Lucas’ story is…the math still makes sense.

  26. TheCloser says:

    Hondo- It’s hard to see (stars covering stripes), and I admit that I assumed based that was the Silver Star based on the claim. Correct order helps enormously in identification.

    Bronze Star should be before Purple Heart and CAR beats a GCM.

  27. TheCloser says:

    CAR also trumps POW medal.

  28. Hondo says:

    TheCloser: yeah, this guy’s rack is pretty much hosed. Even back in the early 1990s (before the Internet was really all that useful for stuff like this), you think a VFW Post Commander would at least be able to find the Navy Awards Reg and use it to get whatever ribbons he was going to wear in more-or-less correct order.

  29. Jonn Lilyea says:

    Well, if we’re doing order of precedence, the BSM is before the PH and he got that wrong, too.

  30. Just An Old Dog says:

    The dude is wearing a Marine Corps Marksmanship badge for the rifle too….

  31. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    Cut this guy some slack … He is DEAD!

    Ah … Nvermind.

    Pile on!

  32. FatCircles0311 says:

    @30: The shame of posing with a pizza box rifle award is enough.

  33. Bobo says:

    Hondo – you’re probably right WRT the occupation medal. The quick source was Wikipedia and my father’s discharge. I do remember him telling me some stories about pulling SP like duty in Japan, so I’m sure that he did actually do some kind of occupation duty there.

  34. O-4E says:

    Once again..the VFW doing a bang up job of vetting members

  35. Joe Williams says:

    Bill R was your Grandfather Jack Lucas ? Please explain how your Father singed your Grandfather’s papers? Joe

  36. Just An Old Dog says:

    @32, We would get the Corpsman on the pistol range and they were always a challenge. I have only seen one instance in 20 years where we had Navy Shooting on one of our range details. I even remember one of the guys wearing dungarees. I talked to the guy who was in charge of them and he said they had lower standards to qual then we did. I’m thinking if they made the Marine Standards they could wear the corresponding badge, I also remember when Corpsmen had the option of wearing a Navy version of The Marine Service Uniforms too.

  37. Just An Old Dog says:

    make that one instance in 20 years on the RIFLE range. Having at least one non-shootin’ Fuck Corpsman on each pistol detail was a given.

  38. Wait, can’t you take 3 (or is if 5) Bronze Stars and turn them in for a Gold Star? I lost track of how many I had get upset when I did the math. “So you were a Ranger in Nam? What was your MOS? and…I noticed you are younger than I am, so how did you go to Nam…Vacation?”

  39. 2/16 says:

    Notice how he places the Purple Heart above his alleged 17 Bronze Star Medals? geez you figure after 7 they would of given him the Legion of Merit…

  40. Bill R. says:

    Joe: No my Dad isn’t Jack Lucas. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps right after he graduated from high school in July of 42. At that time, he hadn’t yet turned 18 so he was required to have his father’s signature on the enlistment papers. He took them and signed himself. In those days things were a bit looser than they are now. Not really a big thing but if you knew my Dad, you would know that is something very unlike him. Although he is now the doting grandfather and has mellowed with age, he was very strict when I was young and things were always black and white with no gray areas. In recent years he has started opening up about some of the things he did in the South Pacific during the war. He worked and flew on PBYs in Air/Sea Rescue. One of his old birds is at Wright Patterson. He’ll be 89 this year and still has good health. I hope he lives forever!

  41. Sparks says:

    @40 Bless your dad with great health. Thank him for his service to our nation from a brother veteran!

  42. NavCWORet says:

    The Navy didn’t even issue marksmanship medals until 1969. Before that it was a ribbon. We NEVER wear those devices from other services.

  43. Tat Wadjet says:

    I read your article and decided to do a little research on my own… I did find a newspaper article from 1991 detailing information that might help with your investigation….
    states in part:
    “Jack McGowan, 64, was earning his Air Force Commendation Medal in World War II. But a special ceremony at Grissom Air Force Friday brought the two men together to share their stories and experiences of war. McGowan, like eight other veterans, presented his medal to Garcia, at the Flight Operations Auditorium. World War ifheros of yesterday presented their medals to the heros of today. This was the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last, according to Col. Russell Rinklin, 306th Air Refueling Wing commander. It was the idea of Major Chris Rubacha, wing project coordinator, to match up the war veterans in a medals presentation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of WWII. He made a few contacts with different organizations and found several veterans willing to make the presentations. It was an exciting task for Rubacha. whose own lather served in World Warll. McGowan, 1908 W. Vaile Ave., wasn’t even 17 when he entered the U.S. Navy. He was involved in 16 major engagements in the South Pacific and on the last his ship, the U.S.S. Houston, was torpedoed and sunk. He was pick- ed up by a Japanese destroyer and put on the island of (Formosa) where he stayed during the big- g est part of the Battle of the hillippines. His captivity lasted until the end of the war. McGowan attributes his youth to being able to keep his sanity and withstand the trauma of captivity. He remembers just floating in the 16-degree water before the Japanese came. The lifeboats were filled<with men, and if any more tried to climb in. they were struck over the head with oars. He never tried. He was taken to Nagasaki, Japan, after the bomb was dropped and stayed there for about three months. Despite his trauma during WWII, McGowan enlisted in the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War. He lost a son in 1969 in Vietnam and a brother who was only 500 yards away from him during World War II. "It's been a pleasure to come and present the medals and ribbons to these guys," McGowan said. "To tell you the truth about it, when I received these medals, I didn't think I had earned them or deserved them, because there were other people that probably went through a whole lot more than I did," McGowan said. While not an Air Force Veteran of WWII, McGowan was there to keepeveryone from believing the Air Force won both WWII and the Forums set Jan. 14 By Maureen Groppe"

    I hope this helps!

    • Chris Rubacha says:

      Jack McGowan did indeed present an Air Force Commendation Medal to a returning airman following the Gulf War in 1991. The Kokomo obit is sparse and the other article is a little confusing, but upon further review he is not listed as being on the ship’s (USS Houston)roster as it sank early (3/1/42) in WWII. I arranged for our local congressman to present his POW Medal after it was available for award, but did not personally review his DD 214. I retired from the Air Force in 1992 and Jack only wore half the ribbons shown on his VFW color guard uniform depicted on the website and certainly not the Silver Star.

  44. AskAMarine says:

    Tat Wadjet: Thank you for providing the newspaper article on McGowan.

    TAH did an update on him:

    Hondo also shared great insight and wrote an excellent post on fixing STOLEN VALOR problems at the VSO Level:

    The sad part of all of this is that McGowan’s Family was (may be still) in denial….one member even blamed the Mortuary for the Obit “mistake”.

    Wonder what everyone’s reaction was in 1991 when the article you provided was published in the local town paper. Did the reporter make a “mistake” then?