Clearly he experienced all the horrors of war firsthand.
"He cannot bear the callous civilian world which he contrasts unfavorably with how it was for us back there in the Pacific with the frigging sound of mortars overhead and our buddies dying—for what? How could any black-marketing civilian spiv know what war was really like? Actually, none of us knew what it was like either since, as far as my investigations have taken me, no novelist of the Second World War ever took part in any action. Most were clerks in headquarter companies... one cooked." —Gore Vidal, "The Art and Arts of E. Howard Hunt"
The Phony Veteran is a character who either lies outright about having any military service or greatly exaggerates their rank or achievements. Often, they will at best act as a Hero of Another Story, but are liable to being more of The Neidermeyer or a Drill Sergeant Nasty, ordering others around based upon their (fake) expertise and credentials. Others try to excuse their vicious or self-centered behavior with the claim that they are the Shell-Shocked Veteran. In military circles, Phony Veterans are known in the British Army as "walts" or "Walter Mittys", after the title character of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a dreaming fantasist. Serially impersonating veterans is known as "walting" and grounds for a royal Humiliation Conga.
It's worth noting, that in the United States at least, laws have started to be passed making this behavior illegal, though at least one has been struck down by the Supreme Court as infringing on free speech (just falsely claiming to be a veteran is allowed, but falsely attempting to claim veterans' benefits is not). In Europe, it is flat out illegal in many circumstances. It is surprisingly easy to acquire the uniforms and even the medals for the blufff, given the ready availability of replica and genuine medals and decorations via eBay. However, given this modern age of the twitpic, YouTube, Facebook, the internet footprint, and the message board, those attempting to walt often find themselves internationally infamous for their stupidity, as there are plenty of genuine soldiers, not to mention medal experts, who will notice their bullshit, call them on it, and very often post their antics all over the web. Various veterans organizations do not take kindly to walts, and go to great lengthsto combat and exposethem (or, in the case of the British ARmy Rumour SErvice - ARRSE - publicly humiliate them).
In other words, Truth in Television. See also Miles Gloriosus and Fake Ultimate Hero.
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Anime and Manga
The police chief in Kirby of the Stars spends one episode bragging about how he served in the army, but it's later revealed that he was talking about his brother's former career to try and get some respect. When Police Are Useless you can hardly blame him.
According to a recent chapter of Black Lagoon, Dutch may be one of these, as a military character points to flaws in Dutch's accounts of serving in Vietnam.
In the Superman comics, Robert DuBois has a mental breakdown and becomes obsessed with the Vietnam War, after learning that his brother, Michael aka "Micky" had gone to fight in his place and became a quadruple amputee. Robert starts claiming that he actually fought in the war alongside his brother. Lex Luthor equips him as the supervillain Bloodsport and sends him up against Superman.
In Vigilante, Dave Winston (a.k.a. the Vigilante) is horrified when he runs across a man nicknamed 'Sarge' who fantasizes about the Vietnam War (the same war Dave served in) and falsely claims to have served.
The Kev miniseries of The Authority has this... sort of. The protagonist goes along with his colleagues to meet another colleague who's at his book signing (they all work for the Intelligence Service, and all of them served, if relegated to Dirty Business due to the thing with the tiger). They read it along the way, laughing at the inconsistencies that are all over the place that turn the guy into a James Bond/Chuck Norris hybrid that served heroically in every conceivable elite regiment ("What'd he do, pass selection when he was twelve?"). When they meet with him, he confirms that it's all BS, but it doesn't matter, since the adoring public "only want fucking Rambo".
Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Tailgate claims to have been a member of the Primal Vanguard during the days of Nova Prime, fighting off-world enemies and doing all manner of impressive deeds, as well as being a crew-member of the original Ark. It's all lies he made up when he learnt he'd spent six million years stuck in a hole and no-one ever came looking for him, which he admits when Cyclonus (who was on the original Ark) points it out.
Film — Animated
An example where the character in question exaggerates their accomplishments occurs in Chicken Run. While Fowler is indeed an RAF veteran, he served with a human squadron as the mascot. The other chickens think that he served as a pilot so when Ginger tells him to go pilot the airplane they built...
Four Leaf Tayback in Tropic Thunder, who wrote a book that the titular movie was based on about his "experiences" in the Vietnam War (in truth he served in the Coast Guard as part of Sanitation Services). Although he later says that the book was meant to be a "Tribute" he keeps up the masquerade, including getting fake hooks for hands and acting like a Shell-Shocked Senior.
A Very Discreet Hero is about an ordinary young Frenchman who, in the post-WW2 years, invents for himself a heroic background as a Resistance fighter.
At one point in the film Trading Places, Eddie Murphy's character pretends to be a disabled homeless Vietnam veteran. The two policeman (both veterans) he runs into are not impressed, especially when he claims "I was a secret agent; I was...Agent Orange!"
The bum harassing D-FENS in Falling Down uses this as one of his excuses to get money from him, claiming to be a Vietnam veteran despite only being around 30 at most.
D-FENS: What were you - a drummer boy? You must've been 10 years old.
The Reluctant Astronaut has the hometown hero at one point admitting to Don Knotts' character that he was never a soldier like he claimed: he was a librarian, and even his "war wound" was just the result of an on-the-job injury. Since Don Knotts' character has inadvertently been trumped up as an astronaut even though NASA simply hired him on as a janitor, this amounts to Oblivious Guilt Slinging.
In Due Date Peter thinks that a guy they're talking to is one of these. When he comes out from behind his desk, he's in a wheelchair. And proceeds to beat Peter up. Ouch.
'General' Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights. General Puskin gives a scathing rundown of his actual military record, which begins with expulsion from West Point for cheating and goes down from there.
Early in Payback, Villain Protagonist Porter passes by a beggar who claims to be a crippled Vietnam veteran. When Porter goes to take some of the "crippled" beggar's money, the guy immediately leaps to his feet and tries to stop Porter. Naturally, it's strongly hinted that he's lying about being a vet too.
There is an old Soviet joke about a "certificate of being a Battle of Kulikovo veteran" (the battle, for the record, happened in 1380), purportedly granting privileges to the bearer. In modern Russia, a "Battle of Kulikovo veteran" is a colloquial term for a phony veteran or a fraud in general.
Thenardier of Les MisÚrables spent the Napoleonic Wars robbing corpses but boasts about his war heroism, had an inn with a patriotic title, and in the musical is introduced dressed as a Napoleonic soldier.
In Hell's Faire, by John Ringo, when visiting No Name Key in Florida, Mike O'Neal Jr's claim of being in the military is initially questioned by the residents, thanks to them having been fooled, previously, by someone claiming to be a veteran to leech off of them.
While he actually did serve in World War One, Grimes in Evelyn Waugh's novel Decline and Fall serves as an example. He is missing a leg, and while he received the injury after the war from being hit by a car, his pupils (he's a schoolmaster) assume that this was a war injury, a notion of which he does nothing to disabuse them.
Inverted in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Taking Of Chelsea 426, with the character of the Major, an apparently senile old duffer forever droning on about his military career, with copious hints that he's really one of these. While he does prove to have a good deal of bravery and military knowledge, the punchline comes after his Heroic Sacrifice, when the Doctor reads the obituary of Field-Marshal Henry Whittington-Smythe and says "I knew he wasn't really a Major!"
In Dave Barry's Big Trouble, Snake tries to take advantage of his new ankle injury by posing as a Vietnam vet, along with his bud Eddie. Nobody gives them anything, because they're obviously too young to have served in the Vietnam War.
Played with in the Codex Alera series. Here, we have Valiar Marcus. Presented as a celebrated veteran, he works with Tavi starting in "Captain's Fury", but in reality he is ex-Cursor Fidelias. He starts Becoming the Mask and eventually becomes exactly that which he portrayed himself as.
In the Discworld Night Watch series, Sgt. Colon actually was in the military, but he exaggerates his accomplishments. In the Watch, he's the resident Desk Jockey, so most other characters believe that he stayed in the back as much as possible in the army as well.
The protagonist's con artist father in A Perfect Spy claims to have been tortured by the Gestapo while working behind the lines.
In the Trainspotting episode A Scottish Soldier Johnny Swann (a drug dealer) is reduced to begging, while claiming he lost his leg in the Falklands War.
Played straight in "Real Deal Seal", Medal of Honor recipient and Navy Seal team leader Lieutenant Curtis Rivers rips off the SEAL-trident of a congressional candidate falsely claiming to have served in Vietnam as a Navy Seal.
Subverted in "Take It like a Man" where a former Marine who served in the Invasion of Panama claims to have earned the Silver Star. It turns out that he did deserve it, but had never been awarded it because none of his team members would back up his story.
In Dad's Army, Captain Mainwaring sometimes goes on about his service in the Great War, although he actually served in 1919 after the war had ended. It's especially ironic as he leads a platoon full of genuine veterans, including a Military Medal recipient.
The beginning of the very first episode of Cheers has a kid trying to using a fake military ID to buy beer. A kid who's 12 at most:
Sam: Ah! Military ID! "Sgt. Walter Keller. Born 1944" That makes you about 38. You must have fought in 'Nam!
Kid: Oh yeah.
Sam: What was it like?
Sam: Yeah, that's what they say. "War is gross". [gives back the ID] I'm sorry soldier.
Kid: [beat] This is the thanks we get.
An episode of House (the episode after House has gone back to working at Princeton Plainsboro, after recovering from going insane and then realizing that only diagnostics gives him the constant thrill he needs to keep the pain down, now that Vicodin is no longer an option) features a very cranky man with one arm, living in the apartment below Wilson's. Allegedly he served in Vietnam, which is where he lost the arm. Subverted in that he actually did serve - just not in Vietnam. And not in the U.S. Army; he's actually a Canadian citizen who lost the arm during a peace-keeping mission, while trying to save a kid from a landmine in a country near Vietnam. He's irritable for much the same reasons House is: he's in constant pain, due to phantom limb pain; House fixes this and the guy breaks down crying with relief because for the first time in over thirty years, he isn't in agony. It's never made clear whether he stopped claiming he was in Nam - it's implied, when he's telling House what really happened to his arm, that he just finds it easier to let people think it was Nam rather than deal with the questions that the truth would spur.
Richie in Bottom frequently tries to pass himself off as a war veteran, but is inevitably undone by his own stupidity and Eddie.
In "Apocalypse", he claims to have "Hurt my leg in the Falklands Conflict".
Man: Did he? Eddie: Oh yeah, he tripped over the coffee table trying to switch channels.
In "Parade", his attempt to cop off with a barmaid by using his Falklands story is ruined by Eddie ("This is all a load of bollocks") and an I Am One of Those Too encounter with a real disabled Falklands veteran ("I don't believe a word of this. In fact I don't believe it so much I'm gonna smash your face in!")
In the second Bottom Live stage show, he claims in a letter to the Queen to be an "Old soldier who during the war fought a desperate rearguard action in Burma."
Eddie: Ah, yes by 'war' I assume you mean Operation Desert Storm, by 'Burma', the Star of Burma kebab and peep show on the Uxbridge road in which you spent the entire conflict, and by 'desperate rearguard action' I take it you are referring to the time you accidentally went into the same cubicle as Mad Quentin Trousers-Down Pervy O'Blimey. Richie: I was doing my bit Eddie. I was doing my bit.
Captain Peacock of Are You Being Served? claims to have fought Rommel in World War II and (of course) to have been a captain (in the Army, of course); however, he later admits he served in the Royal Army Service Corps—the logistics department.
And one episode implies that his actual rank might have been Corporal rather than Captain, but this never confirmed.
In Boardwalk Empire, Al Capone claims to be a veteran of World War I, and says he served in the Lost Battalion. A real veteran eventually figures him out and calls him on it. Capone's claims are Truth in Television.
In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie figures out that he can get free lapdances if he claims to be a crippled war veteran after breaking his legs in a previous episode. He adopts a costume straight out of Born on the Fourth of July. Frank steals his idea and one-ups him by pretending to be quadriplegic. Ultimately the ruse is pointless, since Frank showers the strippers with money to get even more attention.
Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers, of all people, was apparently in Korea: when he threatens a guest with "I've killed men!" his wife adds "He was in the Catering Corps. He poisoned them."
He also claims to have shrapnel embedded in his thigh that gives him problems, although the pain flares up at surprisingly convenient moments.
An episode of 8 Simple Rules had one of these. Rory was hanging out with a friend while on vacation, and his parents wanted to meet the friend to make sure he wasn't causing trouble. They're very surprised when the friend turns out to be a 70+ year old vet... and surprised again when a police brings both Rory and the old man back, then berates the man for telling "that war vet story" again.
Foggy from Last of the Summer Wine, although whether his supposed war stories were just exaggerated or pure invention varied over the course of the show.
In an episode of The Glades Jim discovers that a popular city councilor is one of these. A few years back he was trying to get a loan from a bank and mentioning that he used to be a soldier made the loan officer much more sympathetic. Pretending to be a war vet made it easier for him to run his business and then it jump started his political career. Unfortunately for him the Victim of the Week was a real former Navy SEAL and quickly spotted the fraud.
One episode of Scrubs has JD tell his interns and Dr. Cox that a homeless patient was a veteran to get them to take better care of him.
George on Mr. Belvedere: In one episode, George tells Wesley's class his Korean War stories and one of the students outed him by pointing out that George was too young to have fought in Korea.
Zig-zagged with Bennett in Orange Is The New Black. He is a veteran of Afghanistan, however his prosthetic leg is not a war wound. He lost it to an infection from a dirty hot tub in Orlando.
From Tim Wilson's song Brother in Law:
He tries to blame it all on Vietnam. But he wasn't there, he was fifteen in '74
When Jack Swagger's father (actually played by James "Jimmy" Golden) briefly managed him, Jack ordered the audience to show his father respect because he was a Korean War veteran, despite the fact that Golden was born around the time that war started.
In Table Number Seven, the second one-act play from Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables, the character of Major Pollock claims to have served in the Army in North Africa, but was in fact in the Service Corps and spent the war at a supply depot in the Orkney Islands (north of the Scottish mainland), never rising above the rank of lieutenant. (Although some of the specifics were changed for the 1958 film adaptation featuring an Oscar-winning David Niven as Pollock, the overall story was kept intact.)
Coach Oleander in Psychonauts was never involved in a war, despite his mindscape; a mental vault reveals that he was actually rejected when he tried to join the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and even the cooking staff wouldn't take him. Though he is still a government agent as a Psychonaut.
The heavy weapons dealer, Phil Cassidy, from the Grand Theft Auto series wears military-style clothes, and claims to have lost his left arm when he was stationed in Nicaragua. GTA Vice City reveals that he never was in the army, who turned him down numerous times because of his bad temper and tendency towards alcoholism, and that he lost his arm due to an accident with a homemade bomb.
Subverted by the Soldier in Team Fortress 2. On the one hand, contrary to his claims, he has never served a day in any regular army, and all those medals on his chest were actually self-awarded; on the other, he did (if he must say so himself) earn the aforementioned medals by flying himself out to war zones and fighting on his own initiative, and it is hard to argue with his prowess...
If you check the dates, however, it looks more like he spent much of that time murdering German civilians after the war was over.
Played with in Deadly Premonition with General Lysander. York calls him out on the fact that he's wearing a sergeant's uniform. It turns out he really was promoted to General in Vietnam, but kept his old uniform out of guilt.
Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. He insists he used to be a high-ranking member of SOLDIER and demands appropriate respect and admiration from the other characters for this, and he has the poise and posturing down (not to mention the fighting talent). But as more and more of his past is revealed it becomes apparent that it's all an elaborate lie which he has begun to believe himself due to a combination of magic, psychological trauma, half-remembered war stories from his friend, and severe brain damage. Finding out the truth leads to him having a total Heroic BSOD until he is able to accept his real past.
Principal Longfellow from Better Days claimed to be a Vietnam veteran who served with Sheila's husband Jim, who died there. In fact, he only briefly served in a supply unit. When his lie is exposed, he attempts to rape her. Later it turns out Jim wasn't in Vietnam either, for different reasons.
In one episode, Homer claims to be a Vietnam vet in order to get free admittance to the State Fair.
Subverted by Grampa- when he tells Bart about his experiences in World War One, Barts calls him out on it, pointing out that he couldn't possibly be that old. Grandpa corrects him, cutting to a flashback of a five-year-old Abe in an over-sized uniform.
Grampa tells a lot of stories about WWII — like the time he posed as a burlesque singer in Munich and accidentally drew Hitler's eye — but one episode shows that one of his ramblings, that he was the leader of a platoon which included the fathers of several Springfield regulars as well as Mr. Burns himself, is in fact 100% true.
Andy Anderson of Life With Louiedefines this trope — he has over hundred of stories about his heroic acts during World War Two. When Louie actually writes them all down for a school project, other kids quickly points out how some of them are impossible, require him to be in two different countries at the same time, or be much older than he really is (he even had a story happening during the war in Spain, for heaven's sake!). In fact, all of them are true, but have been done by other veterans and Andy appropriated them, because he was ashamed of his own act of heroism.
Cotton Hill of King of the Hill is eventually called on the fact that his stories place him in the European and Pacific theaters at the same time. It turns out that the European part was fake, but the Pacific part is true - it's kind of hard to argue with a man who doesn't have shins anymore. Then there's his illegitimate son conceived with a Japanese nurse he held a short affair with.
Gru from Despicable Me had his minions write up false personal achievements for him. One of them was declaring that he had being awarded the Medal of Honor in 1991.
Phil from Hey Arnold! told a story wherein he gave Adolf Hitler himself a wedgie. He is called out for this by Arnold, and proceeds to tell the story of how he incapacitated a troop of German soldiers by giving them spoiled Spam. There really is a statue of him in Washington D.C., crediting him with single-handedly winning the Battle of the Bulge.
On Rugrats Grandpa Lou talks about how "that old mattress saved my life in World War II". He recalls carrying it on his first day of basic training, and tripping over it, and saying he thinks he broke his leg, allowing him to be honorably discharged for medical reasons.