Retired Navy SEAL questions Wisconsin American Legion commitment to ferreting out valor thieves

| July 16, 2018 | 37 Comments

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, planned to question the Wisconsin American Legion Department about their commitment to ferreting out valor thieves when his time to speak at a state convention was yanked.

Derrick Van Orden, a 26-year military veteran and resident of Butternut in northern Wisconsin, pointed to two veterans in particular who were allowed to serve as state Legion officials — including one who served as a state commander — despite having lied about or misrepresented the extent of their service.

Van Orden said he was the one who let the state Legion know its then-historian, Howard “Gordy” Clewell, had exaggerated his service during the Vietnam era by claiming to have been in Special Forces. He had actually been stationed in Germany as a social worker.

Clewell resigned, and we discussed him last month. His wife, now the commander of the Wisconsin Department claims that she is kicking his ass to the curb in a divorce.

Van Orden also gave the organization documents that prove that their former state commander Robert Oliver, who died in 2011, was dishonorably discharged which disqualified him from membership in the Legion.

Van Orden points to a variety of groups that seek to expose those who are lying about their service or falsely claiming to be veterans and says it’s likely many Legion members are among the fraudsters.

Most recently a Legion member since 2014, Van Orden said his broader goal is to ensure Legion members who aren’t being truthful about their pasts don’t undermine the organization’s ability to help younger veterans cope with the trauma they’ve experienced during wartime.

“I take this super seriously,” he said, pointing to veterans he’s known who have been killed in combat or committed suicide. “That is the beginning and end of my agenda.”

We’ve done our share of exposing members of the American Legion who have lied about their service, as well as members of the VFW and Disabled American Veterans – all are organizations to which I am proudly a Life Member.

The American Legion has been instrumental in our battle against valor thieves. They shouldered much of our legal battle in Florida last year. While the Legion has some problems with commands below the National level, overall, they’ve been doing a great job in supporting us in our efforts.

Amber Nikolai, state adjutant of the Wisconsin American Legion, said she has a lot of respect for Van Orden but his presentation was canceled only a few hours before he was to give it because it wasn’t appropriate for the convention, which was marking the department’s 100th anniversary.

“It is important and we want to address the issues,” she said. “It’s just that this isn’t the forum.”

When I first started on this quest to rid the country of military fakes, I battled with the VSOs almost as much as I did with the fakes, but that culture in VSOs is shifting more to my point-of-view. They are magnitudes better than they used to be. The Legion has been leading that shift among the VSOs.

It’s been my experience that many of these phonies joined the organizations before the internet and before Jug Burkett’s book which opened all of our eyes to the size of the problem. By that time, many were ensconced in their organizations. Now it takes a crowbar to pry them out of their dark corners.

Category: Veterans in the news, Veterans Issues

Comments (37)

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  1. 6654 says:

    I was asked by a friend to join the American Legion. All I needed to do was provide a copy of my DD214.
    With today’s technology, I can create a well crumpled, folded copy that shows I earned 3 Navy Cross’s, 4 Purple Hearts and the Ricky Recon Marine of the Year award in pretty easy fashion. (I don’t think even a poser would go full monty by declaring an MoH.)

    “Trust but verify.”, should be the order of the day. Am I wrong? (If a fee needs to be added to the membership to cover the verification process, I have no problem with it.)

  2. 3/10/MED/b says:

    There have been more than one (who claimed the MOH) discussed here.

  3. 2banana says:

    Most likely due to the potential loss of money and membership

    • NHSparky says:

      Self-inflicted wounds.

      A lot of younger guys don’t want to join just because there are so many folks who think the AL/VFW are nothing more than a bunch of old guys getting drunk and telling stories of one-upmanship.

      Even worse, the reason a lot of Vietnam vets didn’t join due to the ridicule of WWII/Korea vets saying they weren’t in a “real war”, is now being transferred from a lot of those same Vietnam vets to GWOT veterans. (Are you reading this, DullASS?)

      • Steve1371 says:

        As a Viet vet that is exactly why I didn’t join for many years. Also one day as I looked up and down the bar I came to the realization that everyone there had a DWI or was divorced or getting one or both. I am not big on meetings but do believe the service organizations do a lot for vets so I became a lifer of VFW and DAV. I have been a AL member for 31 consecutive years and I only occasionally go to the hall, mostly to support the dinners etc. I have great respect for our current crop of American heroes especially because many of them have had to deploy multiple times and many have kids at home as well as those in the reserves with jobs at home. I was just a dumb kid with not much to loose at the time of my service except my life and limbs. Luckily I still have both.

      • 5JC says:

        I went to the VFW last month and it was a bunch of guys sitting around getting plastered, smoking and telling lies to one up each other. The only reason I went was because our church was trying to work some things to help vets.

        I belong to the VFW and the AL but only for the lobbying. The majority of SMs in my generation do not smoke and it stinks in the VFW hall TBH. Smoking per capita has been in a steep decline since 1975 falling 75%.

        Since 1980 Beer and liquor (mostly what the VFW cantina sell) consumption in the US has declined by about 15% per capita, people don’t enjoy sitting around getting drunk like they used to.

        If the drinking and smoking isn’t off putting enough the lies sure are. If I sat there and picked through all the likely cases of SV just at my local VFW they would likely send a lynching party after me. I know millions served in Vietnam and several hundred thousand got a PH but these guys all have ’em.

        So yeah, there is more to the AL and the VFW than the above but it is off putting enough to make me not want to get involved except on a cursory level.

  4. Alemaster says:

    If the state convention is not a forum to address the issue of Stolen Valor “appropriate for the convention,” where is it appropriate? regards, Alemaster

  5. Club Manager, USA ret. says:

    I became involved with this web site after someone exposed a Green Beret phony running for Congress in Arkansas. Until that time, I was ignorant about the magnitude of the problem and that includes being active in veterans circles as the state MOAA newsletter editor and other things. If it were not for Jonn, and his associate organizations, these sonovabitches would still be enjoying a free ride. The American Legion in WI was negligent in not permitting the issue to be surfaced at their forum. Which is precisely why the only veterans organization I belong to these days is the Warrant Officers Protection Association.

  6. 26Limabeans says:

    Wish I had found this place sooner.
    It is obvious that there is a lot of work going on in the background and I am thankful for the dedication of those responsible for it.

  7. Mason says:

    Van Orden is absolutely right. This undermines the organization and seriously would hamper recruiting attempts. Who wants to associate with liars and phonies? Apparently the Wisconsin arm of the AL.

  8. A Proud Infidel®™️ says:

    Kudos to Derrick Van Orden for bringing that up, I concur that his cause is very legit and I hope he keeps pushing until he gets real answers! Stolen Valor needs to be purged from VSO’s .

  9. JimV says:

    I rarely drink, so I would not fit in with the Legion.

  10. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    I don’t have any problem with him being dis-invited. It’s pretty crass to speak at a convention and take aim at your host. There are ways of doing things and there are ways of doing things. This wasn’t a way to do things no matter how just the cause or valid the concern.

  11. AZtoVA says:

    When I helped charter a MCL Detachment, we required applicants to show their 214 to be eligible for membership (Didn’t keep them because we didn’t want liability of holding everyone’s PII securely). However, anyone wanting to run for office had to provide a copy and a signed SF-180 before they could be nominated. Those elected had their records kept on file with the detachment during their term of office.

    • Jarhead says:

      Two points I’d like to make here. First is the competence (or are we talking about integrity?)of a County VSO officer who knowingly refuses to accept the truth when a DD214 does not match a veteran’s account of his military history. Here is a typical TAH story which explains it all: https://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=59884
      Secondly, as I once wrote about on this site, the night I joined a local MCL chapter, the other person joining that night was in my opinion totally FULL OF SHIT. Claimed to have been a Marine Corps Chaplain who served in RVN. Claimed to have carried a M14 with him in country. He stood immediately beside me that night as we were both being sworn in, yet he did not acknowledge me at any cost. Reason; he had recently been installed as the new pastor of our church, related his story (same as in previous sentence) to the congregation and went out of his way to shoo me out the door when I asked him a couple of obvious questions. Last visit to that church after several year’s membership. As for the MCL, that was the first and last meeting I ever attended. Next day phone call to chapter Commander accomplished nothing. As in far too many VSO chapters, dues paying membership is the name of the game.

  12. Martinjmpr says:

    It’s not just that there are fakers in the VSO’s. There are fakers/frauds/pretenders in almost any venue of public life.

    Rather, it’s that fakers are USING the VSO’s for the express purpose of “bootstrapping” their fake credentials. And they do this by exploiting the lax (or nonexistent) verification procedures of some VSO posts.

    And once they get in, they can then cultivate a base of supporters who will defend them against all outsiders for their “good works” within the post.

    Or they can take their bogus credentials to another post, and since they are transferring in as established members, the new post doesn’t verify their credentials and takes them at face value.

    Once they’ve established themselves in a post, their false claims gain considerably more credibility, particularly with the civilian community and the news media.

    In terms of credibility and believability, there’s a world of difference between “Joe Schmoe, a local resident who claims to be a Navy veteran, said …” and “Retired Captain Joe Schmoe, vice-commander of the VFW post XYZ, said ….”

    So it’s not simply that posers and embellishers are among the VSO members, it’s that the VSO’s policies are actually aiding the valor stealers and exacerbating the Stolen Valor problem by lending their fake stories an imprimatur of truth.

    And it’s a problem that the VSOs are going to have to tackle head-on if they want to keep their credibility from diminishing any further.

    Because once it gets to the point where the VSOs are generally seen as an nothing more than an “old man’s drinking club” full of liars and embellishers, any political “clout” they might have had will vanish in a puff of smoke.

    • desert says:

      I will say this about my A.L….a lady came to our home, I drug out all of my Navy papers, I keep everything, even had my orders to the ship , to A school, DD214, schooling etc etc ad nauseum and she looked over everything….it would be tough for someone to get by this Vet!

  13. Sparks says:

    I applaud Derrick Van Orden for doing what he is and I hope he continues. Though he was removed from the convention’s speaker list, the reason he was is already out there not just in Wisconsin but nationwide. In a way that worked out well. Instead of his words perhaps ending there, they are now widely known. I hope it puts the shaking in the boots to other VSO chapters and posts nationwide. I hope the word gets out to them that a reckoning is coming.

  14. Jeff LPH 3, 63-66 says:

    Am a life member of the AL & VFW. I just mailed them a copy of my DD214 and was in. After Viet Nam, The VFW was lacking in members so they opened it up to Vets that were awarded the AFEM and I was excepted because I was part of the Dom. Rep. crisis (Op Power Pack) in 1965. Now this is probaly going to piss off a few Tin Can Sailors, Because I sent the Tin Can Sailors Assn. a copy of my DD214 and my 2 week orders for Reserve duty aboard the USS Haynsworth DD 700 out of Galveston, Texas in 1967 and paid for a life membership in the Assn. Now that’s hitting a fine line with only 2 weeks on a Tin Can.

    • 2/17 Air Cav says:

      Jeff: At least you were on board that boat/ship/floating thing. And now a word about the most bullshit VSO in the history of VSOs: the Vietnam Veterans of America. Just send two boxtops (no stamps, please) and the application fee and if you served during the official VN war years, you’re in, a genuine Vietnam Veteran. Ball cap extra.

      • Jeff LPH 3, 63-66 says:

        Two different service ships/categories. 3 years on one type of ship and two weeks on another type of ship. Two weeks is stretching it. I forgot to mention since 2007, I am a member of the Iwo Jima Class ship Assn which is the LPH type of ship. Scroll all the way down on the members gallery to see a pic of me or go to the USS Okinawa LPH 3 reunite with old Navy buddies crew list and check out the 1963-1964 column and scroll down to Jeff M. and click on my pic which is the only one in the column.

    • SFAlphaGeek says:

      I joined the VFW after I gor back from Afghanistan the first time, and I found out that I could have joined in the mid-90s thanks to drawing hostile fire pay* on some SOUTHCOM deployments back then.

      *Drawing hostile fire pay is very different from drawing hostile fire.

  15. Virtual Insanity says:

    FWIW, I just finished reading a great history of the First Crusade. The author of the book included a complaint from one of the contemporaneous chroniclers of the Crusade that many who never made it across the sea on the Crusade returned to Europe and…you guessed it…claimed far and wide to be veterans of glorious combat in the Holy Land, receiving many honors and glory they had not earned.

  16. OldCorpsTanker72 says:

    This is from the most recent issue – July, 2018 – of The American Legion magazine:

    “Barbara Wright’s late husband believed he was exposed to Agent Orange in Korea in 1962 and 1963. However, VA only recognizes claims from servicemembers who can establish they were at the DMZ between April 1968 and August 1971. Joe Dunagan was part of a clandestine Army special ops unit whose records remain classified, so he was never able to prove he’d served overseas, Wright says.”

    OK, this is right out of the playbook that we’ve all seen a thousand times here at TAH. So how does the American Legion get off printing this unsubstantiated claim in their official magazine? I’m not buying that the American Legion is cracking down on phonies. How about a little due diligence from national headquarters?

    • AnotherPat says:

      Interesting, OldCorps Tanker 72.

      Are you talking about this?:
      http://americanfreepress.net/u-s-ghost-walkers-in-north-korea/

      • OldCorpsTanker72 says:

        Yep, that would be it. So damned secret that you can only discuss it on the Internet and in local newspapers. And the American Legion buys it, hook, line and sinker.

        • AnotherPat says:

          🗣😆👍

          • OldCorpsTanker72 says:

            Can you translate that for me, or is that special Ghost Walker code? I’m a little concerned that you may have given the surviving Ghost Walkers my name and address, and they may be on their way over here to kill me right now. (I read the article, I know too much.)

            • Jarhead says:

              What am I missing here? The idea that someone (Mrs. Wright’s husband) who had an MOS as a Military Policeman was part of a Super Sekret Clandestine Clan would be asked to engage in covert activities such as she claimed? Now before any of you MOS MP’s start bitching, know that we all respect the MOS. But we all know that was one MOS that seldom participated in hardcore grunt activities.

              • rgr769 says:

                Hey, if you are going on a super secret combat mission behind enemy lines, one of the first people you want on your team is a guy trained to direct traffic, write tickets, and control the crank-steppers in the stockade.

        • 5JC says:

          The CIA called up an Army Reserve Brigade to go on a Top Secret infiltration mission in to North Korean to look at nuclear power plants thereby causing back injures 40 years later? Seems totally legit. Makes sense as they could easily explain away combat losses as alcohol poisoning. If only the one guy had not talked…

      • Ex-PH2 says:

        Ghost Walkers and believing that you were exposed to Agent Orange, even if you never set foot on dry land anywhere near the DMZ – yes, that explains how some now dead pisspot lawer managed to scam the VA into believing he was suffering from that stuff and get 100% VADC out of them. It was a shame that he didn’t try harder, wasn’t it?

  17. Stephen F. McCartney, M.D. says:

    I hate going negative on the AL as most of the fellows I met in my 3 yrs were decent chaps and I assumed they were honest. The dues are the biggest prioritiy it seems. National, State and local Post. AL seemed more like the Kiwanis Club or Rotarians. I heard some real BS stories and got hit up to enhance some of their 100% bull shit VA disability concerns (low back pain, PTSD from getting rolled on Naples port call in 1982). There was a call for DD 214 years back but I never heard of anyone being dinged. I am sure there were some real phonies. I have since bugged out but still pay dues. I was told by social workers at Camp Le.good CAPT Bones USN (ret)

  18. RetiredDevilDoc8404 says:

    Dues payers are their priority IMHO for a lot of posts, they talk the talk about “Oh, we need younger vets to join.”; but when they get them they go out of their way to drive them out. You had officers and an e-board in the post I was in, however I discovered that things were actually run by the life members who met every Thursday morning for coffee. And woe be unto anyone who dared speak their mind to certain members of that little braintrust – I did when they conned me into serving as commander and I said I wanted the Adjutant to at a minimum see a 214 or dischage form from all present and new members including officers. My term was not pleasant, and we’ll say the average age in the local post is now in the upper 70’s with numbers declining and they’re still wondering why they lost 8 guys when my term ended… Hint – Perhaps one of your exposed embellishers calling the commander a brain damaged f*** might have had a lot to do with it (I deal with the effects of a TBI).

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