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Phony Veteran

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Clearly he experienced all the horrors of war firsthand.
Doctor: Your son appears to suffering from PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Stan: But doctor, that's impossible. He was only in a reenactment.
Doctor: Oh, then it must be PTWRSD, Post-Traumatic War Reenactment Stress Disorder.
American Dad!, "In Country...Club"

The Phony Veteran is a character who either lies outright about having any military service or, in the case they have actually served, 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. Phony Veterans are known in the British Army as "walts" or "Walter Mittys", after the title character of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", while in the US this is referred to as "Stolen Valor". Serially impersonating veterans is known as "walting" and grounds for a royal Humiliation Conga, often following an Impostor Exposing Test.


It's worth noting, that in the United States at least, laws have been passed making this behavior illegal, though at least one has been struck down by the Supreme Court as infringing on the First Amendment. Falsely claiming to be a veteran is protected as free speech, but claims for the purpose of obtaining tangible benefit isn't. In Europe, it is flat out illegal in many circumstances. It is surprisingly easy to acquire the uniforms and even the medals for the bluff, 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 lengths to combat and expose them (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.

Do note: As with all things, not everyone accused of being a phony veteran actually is one. There have been cases of actual vets being harassed or even attacked due to people not believing their claims.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 and the fact that Dutch appears ignorant of G.I. lingo.
  • Cat Shit One: A Japanese soldier photocopies some decorations and sticks them to his uniform. He lasts about five minutes before running into his remarkably humorless superior in the hallway, who asks where he got them.
  • The police chief in Kirby: Right Back at Ya! 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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".
  • The Boys: One Legacy Character (a Captain Ersatz of Captain America) claims to have served in World War II (the original one did, but was quickly killed as a result of his incompetence and starting the pattern of what happens when Vought Incorporated gets involved with warfare). When Billy (a veteran of the Falklands war) kills him, he tells him he's an insult to the men who truly served.
  • For a while the Italian comic Lupo Alberto had a Running Gag of Enrico making some odd claims about his service in World War II, at different times declaring to have run around with the SS, served under Rommel (who apparently stole his wallet), and been in the crew of a US bomber. While these could have been possible due Italy switching sides in the war, a later story makes clear he was lying when Alberto says Enrico makes up stories about having served in the air force during The Punic Wars and Enrico immediately starts telling a story involving himself, Scipio Africanus, and the Red Baron.
  • Preacher: Jesse runs into a madman blasting holes in the desert. It turns out he'd always wanted to be an astronaut, even joining the Air Force (as a clerk) and faking the paperwork to become one... and was instantly discovered and kicked out (the fact that he was about two heads shorter than all the other candidates never occurred to him). Ever since, he's been planning his revenge by blasting out a "FUCK YOU" visible from space (and one astronaut does in fact see the message).
  • In the Superman comics, Robert DuBois fled to Canada when drafted into Vietnam, forcing his brother Micky to impersonate him and go in his place. Upon hearing Micky took severe injuries leaving him a quadruple amputee, Robert snaps from guilt, becoming obsessed with the war and delusionally believing he served alongside his brother. Lex Luthor finds him in a Canadian mental hospital, equips him as the supervillain Bloodsport, and sends him up against Superman.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Old Man Henderson, the man who won Call of Cthulhu, claims to be a Vietnam veteran, though it's impossible for him to have been one since he was only 12 years old around the time the war ended. He's certainly crazy enough to genuinely believe he was there, though.

    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 (certain British regiments do have animal mascots, such as the Royal Welch Fusiliers’ regimental goat). The other chickens think that he served as a pilot so when Ginger tells him to go pilot the airplane they built...
    Fowler: 644 Squadron, Poultry Division - we were the mascots.
    Ginger: You mean you never actually *flew* the plane?
    Fowler: Good heavens, no! I'm a chicken! The Royal Air Force doesn't let chickens behind the controls of a complex aircraft!
    • It bears mentioning that at no point does Fowler actually lie about his service or even intentionally withhold the truth - he just doesn't specify about what he really did, and other characters made the assumption based on his vague ramblings, to the point where he's genuinely surprised they thought he was claiming to be a pilot.
  • Gru from Despicable Me had his minions write up false personal achievements for him. One of them was declaring that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1991.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Big Fish, Edward Bloom did fight in a war, but it's likely that his stories about serving on dozens of secret missions are heavily exaggerated.
  • 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.
  • 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 Amicus Productions anthology From Beyond the Grave has a fellow who tries to buy a Distinguished Service Order medal at the antique shop that features in the Framing Story. When the proprietor won't sell it to him without proof, he steals it. He pays in the end, though.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Plutarch's original ideas for the promotional material involves Katniss standing in front of a CGI battle acting as if she's just rallied the troops. When it's pointed out that no one will believe Katniss's stilted lines and awkward delivery, she offers to actually go into the field and become the real deal.
  • '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.
  • In Quick Change protagonist Grimm puts on a "deranged Vietnam vet" act as part of the bank robbery he and his two accomplices are staging. (He's also dressed as a clown.)
  • 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.
  • Rōnin: When Sam suspects one of his colleagues isn't telling the truth about his background, he tests him with questions like "What's the color of the boathouse at Hereford?" Sam doesn't know either, but he knows that a real SAS veteran wouldn't have been so flustered by the question that Sam could get the drop on him.
  • Major Pollock from Separate Tables says he's a major who fought in the North African campaign of World War II, when in reality he never rose above the rank of Lieutenant and was a supply officer far away from any combat theater. See also the original play listed under Theatre below.
  • Todd/Han's would-be brother-in-law Chad in That's My Boy seems to be every possible negative stereotype of a dumb hyper-aggressive Marine, until we find out that he's actually a dumb hyper-aggressive Modern Jazz dancer who wears uniforms he buys on eBay... and fucks his sister. Up until The Reveal, he consistently gets military jargon wrong and wears a mix of Army and Marine uniforms. At the end, Donny points out how he makes real veterans look bad, in addition to all the other ways that he's an asswipe.
  • When Wyatt Earp first meets Tom Mix in Sunset, Earp mentions the articles about Mix's service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War and asks why there were a lot of drawings but no photos. Mix embarrassedly admits that those stories were a product of the studio publicity machine and that he'd never served.
  • Trading Places: Valentine's first scene has him panhandling while presenting himself as a blind and crippled Vietnam War veteran. When two cops, both veterans, question his story, it quickly falls apart.
  • 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 Veteran.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Artemis Fowl: One character is mentioned to have served in a war, but he was bodyguarding a journalist well away from actual combat. Later he uses his experience to bmuster his way into a bodyguard job but is woefully unprepared when actual trouble comes knocking.
  • 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.
  • In the prologue of Cibola Burn, Bobbie Draper is approached by a beggar claiming to be a Ganymede war veteran. Bobbie, an actual Shell-Shocked Veteran who witnessed a Humanoid Abomination tearing her squadmates apart on Ganymede and igniting the conflict in the first place, doesn't buy into his story even for a moment.
  • In his account of the making of the Navy SEALs, Damn Few, veteran Rorke Denver recounts the night his Seal unit went for a beer to find a guy sitting at the bar who was claiming to be a SEAL. His dress, attitude, demeanor, and presentation were subtly wrong and a long-suffering waitress tipped them off that "Billy" used his Seal status to scare people. The least threatening real Seal was sent to quiz the suspicious Billy about where he'd been, who he'd trained with, and what his combat specialties were. He failed on every test. When Billy went to the men's room, the largest and hardest Seal followed him in. A little discussion ensued and Billy ended up running for his life, stripped of his fake badges - which later ended up pinned to the real Seals' mess-room wall with a combat knife.
  • 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.
  • Sgt. Colon from the Discworld series 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.
  • In Doctor Sleep, Grandpa Flick adjusts what war he claims to be a veteran of periodically to match his apparent age. Being a military history buff, he manages to be reasonably convincing.
  • 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!"
  • Deliberately presented in an ambiguous way in The Great Gatsby. Gatsby claims to have fought in Europe during World War One, and even presents a Montenegrin medal as proof (which may or may not be fake).
  • 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.
  • Honor Harrington: In the "greatly exaggerated" category, we have Citizen Brigadier Dennis Tresca, commandant of the prison planet Hades. He was a corporal in Internal Security before the Harris Assassination, but after his StateSec promotion he hacked his personnel records to say he was a Marine captain pre-coup.
  • Thenardier of Les Misérables 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Captain Peacock of Are You Being Served? is a World War II veteran; the phoniness is that he claims to be a combat veteran who fought Rommel and (of course) to have been a Captain (in the Army, of course). He's frequently accused of, and later admits to, having served in the Royal Army Service Corps—the logistics department. Also, one episode implies that his actual rank might have been Corporal rather than Captain, but this never confirmed.
  • An episode of Better Call Saul involves one of these, where Jimmy carts up an old man in uniform to an Air Force base to hang out in front of a B-29. The guy in question is just some weirdo who owes Jimmy a favor after Jimmy defended him for public masturbation. Ironically, it's implied that by some coincidence, he may have had some history with the war, since he corrects Jimmy about whether the B-29 was used against the Nazis.
  • On the wife's side, in Big Love, set in the 2000s, Margie is tired of saying her sons are illegitimate (to conceal her bigamous marriage) and claims to a neighbor that her husband, the father of her children, was killed in the Gulf War, which happened in 1991. Her sons are about six and seven, and Barb, her sister-wife, exasperatedly points out the date.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
    Kid: Gross.
    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.
  • Cobra Kai: Zig-Zagged with John Kreese who really did serve in Vietnam, but all his talk of reenlisting and taking part in black ops after he lost Cobra Kai is bullshit. He tried to reenlist, but got rejected after failing a psych evaluation. He wound up a homeless drifter and started telling trumped-up stories about his military service for sympathy. It's then zigzagged again when it's revealed that, while the stories he did tell were trumped-up bullshit, the stories he didn't tell are much much worse.
  • The Code has an episode focusing on a Marine who exposes civilians posing as military veterans in public on video. It becomes complicated when one such phony Marine is beaten by a real one and dies of his injuries.
  • In a Cold Case episode about the murder of a former POW, Lt. Stillman's contempt for a suspect who's been lying through his teeth and claiming that he was a POW who saw much combat (in truth, the guy wimped out before even going to Vietnam and received a medical discharge) is even greater than that for the actual killer.
    "You tell people you're a racecar driver, a brain surgeon. Not a POW."
  • Copper: In "Home, Sweet Home", Corky feels sympathy towards a man whose son has gone missing when he learns he is a fellow veteran of the Union army. However, in "Aileen Aroon" he learns that the man was lying and beats the crap out of him.
  • 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.
  • In Elementary season four episode "Ready or Not" Holmes and Watson look into a missing doctor named Vincent, who they determine was a survivalist renting space in a doomsday bunker, run by a former Marine named Ronnie Wright. When they visit the bunker, Holmes determines that the bunker is an ill-prepared fraud, and finds a bloodstain belonging to Vincent. Ronnie Wright admits to disposing of the body but claims he couldn't have killed him because a bad rotator cuff prevents him from swinging a weapon overhead. He admits that he was injured while on his high school swim team and that he was unable to enlist in the marines.
  • The 2014 Russian series "Палач" (The Executioner), based on the real-life case of Antonina Makarova. She was a respected former field nurse, who received several awards, had photographs of her in the local museum... Then she was shot for executing 1,500 people as a Nazi collaborator.
  • 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.
  • The pilot of FBI: Most Wanted has the team tracking a man who had talked of being a decorated veteran in Bosnia who killed his wife and another man. It turns out both had discovered the man had lied about his entire past just for attention. This majorly affects his daughter who had enlisted herself to live up to her father's "legacy." When he tries to take her hostage, she beats him down, ranting on how she wasted her life looking up to a total fraud.
  • 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.
  • The second season of Homecoming has lawyer Alex tracking down former vet Walter to find out what he knows about her sinister company. Alex carefully researches how to pose as a veteran herself, down to getting a fake tattoo matching a certain unit and knows all the jargon. But she finally messes up when she mentions how the sniper in her unit was able to hit a target at several hundred meters...not grasping that snipers always use "yards", not "meters" to judge distance.
  • An episode of Homicide: Life on the Street had the detectives talking about a case where two guys ended up killing each other in a Bar Brawl over a fight about their respective times in the military. Turns out, neither man had ever served.
  • 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 - but as part of the peacekeeping force enforcing the Paris Peace Accords after the war ended. And not in the U.S. Army; he's actually a Canadian citizen who lost the arm 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.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • In one episode, Charlie figures out that he can get free lap dances 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.
    • Frank himself has claimed to be a vet on a few occasions, claiming that he "saw a lot of good men die in 'Nam"—which is at least Metaphorically True; he went there in the '90s and opened up a sweatshop. He's also claimed he did a tour, came home, and was hounded by state troopers, which usually provokes the response that he's mistaking the events of First Blood with his own life.
  • JAG:
    • 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.
  • Last Man Standing: After Mike insults one of Vanessa's friends during a party she hosted, Vanessa gets angry and makes him promise to keep his opinions to himself when they go out to dinner with her and her new boyfriend. During the dinner, the boyfriend talks about his experiences as a Navy S.E.A.L., but Mike, being the son of a Korean War veteran as well as having an interest in military history and weaponry, quickly realizes that he's a fraud and struggles to not call him out on it. Vanessa finally lets him off the leash after discovering the friend wasn't planning on inviting them to a future party even after they made amends.
  • 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 the Soviet mini-series The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed, the villainous thief Fox pretends to be a WWII veteran using a stolen uniform and medal, and, since the serial is set in chaotic post-WWII Moscow, no one calls him on it. Protagonist Sharapov, an actual decorated WWII veteran, is disgusted with him for this and tears his stolen medal off of him when they apprehend him.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • One episode had a man involved in a complicated defrauding scheme pose as a major to attract investors. While he was in the army, he was a sergeant- and at a desk job, at that.
    • A very convincing 'walt', claiming service in an elite unit in Afghanistan, appears in "The Point of Balance". A mistake concerning the nickname of helicopters, and not wearing a decoration he should have been entitled to, arouse the suspicion of a genuine veteran. Afraid of being exposed, and having his schemes exposed, the 'walt' blackmails an ally into killing the veteran for him.
  • George from Mr. Belvedere was stationed in Korea during peacetime, but told Korean War stories to Wesley because he thought his real Army years weren't exciting enough. When Wesley bragged about him at school, a classmate pointed out that George was too young to have fought in Korea.
  • NCIS
    • Los Angeles: One episode saw Sam being arrested for a woman's murder with his fingerprints found on a watch at the scene. When the FBI Agent and the prosecutor in charge of the case make it clear they're more interested in bringing down a "corrupt" federal agent than actually investigating, the team does it for them. It's revealed to have been a man Sam went to SEAL training with before being drummed out and responded by stealing from those who did in order to pass himself off as a SEAL.. To the amusement of the team, the suspect starts crying when it seems Sam's gonna help him. They're also forced to work with "The SEAL Hunter" who runs a web series exposing similar similar imposters note 
    • New Orleans: The Victim of the Week in "Stolen Valor" is a former SEAL who hunts military imposters. His killer was someone rejected three times for military service who later joined a militia and then started turning up at veteran events claiming to be a decorated marine.
  • The Punisher (2017): O'Connor is an alleged Vietnam War vet who constantly shows off his Silver Star he says he won in combat. He uses this background to support his Angry White Man Right-Wing Militia Fanatic spiels about how society is going to the pits, and insults the Shell-Shocked Veterans for being "pussies". It's ultimately revealed that he only briefly served, long after the Vietnam War had ended, and never earned a Silver Star. This ends up getting him killed in an undignified way.
  • In an episode of The Rebel, Johnny runs into a man from his own past who was a guard at the prison camp Johnny escaped from and claims to have been wounded in combat, with four scars on his chest to prove it. Johnny eventually reveals to the man's brothers that after Johnny escaped from the camp, the man got reassigned to a frontline unit as punishment and immediately deserted and hid in a hayloft, where he was stabbed in the chest by a farmer with a pitchfork (which is why the "bayonet" wounds are all in a straight line), then taken to a Confederate field hospital, where he met Johnny again.
  • Scrubs
    • One episode has JD tell his interns and Dr. Cox that a homeless patient was a veteran to get them to take better care of him.
    • Parodied in another episode where JD starts wearing a lab coat despite not having "earned" it in Cox's eyes, who compares it to wearing a bronze star without having served in the military. The Janitor overhears, claims that he served, and that if he sees JD wearing such a star there will be trouble. JD counters by asking which branch the Janitor served in, and he can only lamely answer "The...janitor branch", making him this trope.
  • In Sons of Anarchy, Moses Cartwright is the chief enforcer for crime lord August Marks and claims to be both a veteran of the US Army and Blackwater. This is technically true, but he was never actually deployed as a soldier, and had a desk job at Blackwater, which he compensates for by constantly spouting about loyalty and what makes a "good soldier." He's only dangerous when he's got a crew of thugs backing him up, and he eventually gets killed by Jax in a one-on-one fight.
  • The opening scene of Stumptown (2019) has main character Dex being hit on by a guy in a bar who claims to have been serving in Afghanistan. She lets him talk a bit about his experience before cutting him off his dog tags don't match, no one calls it "the Stan" and he doesn't know what language is spoken there. The fact Dex is both a detective and a military veteran means the guy didn't have a chance with his lines.
  • Inverted by Pops, in Time Gentlemen Please, who "didn't fight in World War II... admittedly".
  • The Twilight Zone: "The Encounter." Neville Brand, a real veteran, portrayed a character of this type.
  • Darva Conger, winner of the notorious reality show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, claimed to be a Gulf War veteran. But after the show ended, it turned out that she spent the entire conflict stationed at Hill Air Force Base and never saw action. She tried to justify her lie by saying "I was on active duty in the Air Force at the time of the Gulf War; anyone on active duty at the time of that war is considered a Gulf War veteran." Veterans who've seen active combat typically refer to such service members as "in the rear with the gear."
  • Seal Team: An episode in Season 3 has one of these at a political event. Clay pegs him as a fake, but recognizes him as harmless and ignores him. Sonny (dealing with some personal issues at the time) is enraged and attacks him. He is then reprimanded by his superiors and punished for assaulting a civilian. Even his own teammates chew him out for his overreaction.

  • From the Tim Wilson song Brother in Law:
    He tries to blame it all on Vietnam.
    But he wasn't there, he was fifteen in '74

    Print Media 
  • MAD magazine's parody of The Sound of Music reveals "Captain Von Tripe" as this. Early on, "Mitzia" asks the "Mother Obsess" how Von Tripe became a Navy captain of landlocked Austria, only for the Mother Obsess to admit that she has also wondered that. Von Tripe eventually admits to Mitzia that he's not really a Captain—he just enjoys wearing sailor suits.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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.

  • Older Than Steam: Il Capitano from the Commedia dell'Arte plays is a braggart who tells wild tales of combat glory but runs from danger at a moment's notice.
  • 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.)

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in Bioshock Infinite: According to a soldier from the Battle of Wounded Knee, Zachary Comstock never fought in the war and the accomplishments he takes credit for aren't his. He actually did fight in the war when he was still known as Booker DeWitt. However, he is lying about the extent of his wartime accomplishments. And they're both deluded about the actual "accomplishment" of slaughtering two towns of underequipped civilians fighting in desperate self-defense.
  • 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 for the Heroic Sacrifice of Sergeant 'Cry-Baby' Timothy, who trekked back and forth from a river to give Lysander water in his cupped hands, despite being heavily wounded.
  • 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. In fairness, it turns out he actually was in the army... as a faceless grunt. He's also a certified badass, just in a more down to earth fashion when's the last time you seen a simple grunt WINNING a fight against the World's Strongest Man?
    • Final Fantasy VII Remake has fun elaborating on this with Cloud repeatedly getting recognised by random goons who trained with him. Reno calls him out on his lies from the moment they first meet each other, and it's clear Reno's anger at him is in part due to being beaten by a fake.
  • The heavy weapons dealer, Phil Cassidy, from Grand Theft Auto III wears military-style clothes, and claims to have lost his left arm when he was stationed in Nicaragua. Grand Theft Auto: 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.
  • L.A. Noire:
    • A suspect in the DLC case "The Naked City" claims to have served with the 6th Marine Regiment at Okinawa, but struggles to answer details like which company he'd been with and what engagements he took part in. Protagonist Cole Phelps, an actual former Sixth Marines officer (warts and all), is not amused.
      Earle: Don't you love it when they pull the "war hero" excuse? ...Actually, maybe you don't.
      Phelps: (seething) That idiot never stepped foot in Okinawa.
    • During "The Studio Secretary Murder" case, another suspect claims to have experienced the horrors of war firsthand in order to make himself sound more heroic, when in fact he was dishonorably discharged during training for physically assaulting a woman.
  • 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.
  • Played with 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.
  • Major Krum of the Wallace & Gromit games may be one, seeing as he can't remember whether he was in the artillery or the RAF. (Maybe he started out in the Royal Artillery, then got transferred to the RAF Regiment?) Then again, maybe he's just senile.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • A repeated theme with Felix from Chapo Trap House is his obsession with stolen valor.
    • The interview with @PissPigGranddad begins with a skit imitating the many YouTube videos of fake soldiers getting called out on it, with Felix accusing Rashid of being a fake serviceman on the grounds that the YPG isn't a real army.
    • Felix's character in the Call of Cthulhu campaigns is a fake serviceman with an extremely contradictory supposed history of service, and a high Fast Talk stat to prove it. Even after Felix gets bored with his character's gimmick and decides to turn him inexplicably into a "white spoken word jazz musician", he gets through security by "stealing more valor than he has ever stolen before" and covering every inch of his uniform in nonsensical medals. He also flexes his achievements to successfully seduce the President's wife, Ivana, claiming "I bet you've never been with a man whose brain has been made as good as mine by the war".
    • In the election live show, Felix appeared as "Admiral Felix Biederman" who claimed to be an Admiral, a US Army Marine, and to have "stolen valor in over seven countries" and that he was also a cancer survivor.
  • Jace and Eli from Deagle Nation qualify as this, particularly the former (since he calls himself a "Future Former US Marine").
  • Brought up in the Unraveled dealing with Bowser's military hierarchy, as one of Brian David Gilbert's trademark rambles:
    Brian: Next up are the Koopalings, they're sort of like the SEAL Team 6 of Bowser's army - Iggy, Larry, Lemmy, Roy, Wendy O., Ludwig Von, uh, notice that I did not include Morton Koopa Jr, because despite what he has written in his memoirs, he's never actually been active duty, and he's a valour-stealing bastard.
  • On YouTube, retired Navy SEAL, Senior Chief Don Shipley exposes the SEAL imposters in his videos.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy
    • "I Never Met the Dead Man" plays this for laughs - when Peter winds up knocking out the town's cable, he shifts the blame onto Meg to get the crowd to ease off... they don't. He then claims that she'd lost a limb in Vietnam, which the crowd buys hook, line, and sinker before dispersing.
    • In "Peternormal Activity", Peter, Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland punch a hook-handed man named Albert to death at the abandoned insane asylum. Before Albert dies, he tells them that he got the hook after losing his hand while saving 6 men in Korea. Later, they see a newspaper headline that says that Albert has been reported missing and that Albert was really the Grand Giant of the local Ku Klux Klan and he stole war medals.
    • The segment of "Family Guy Through the Years" set in The '70s has Peter trying to force Chris to enlist for The Vietnam War, claiming that he "knows war" from having stormed the beaches of Normandy. Cut to Peter doing just that, only for the beach to be filled with tourists enjoying themselves and lifeguards telling him not to run so fast; his narration then reveals he "stormed the beach" in 1958.
    • Subverted in another episode Peter, Cleveland, and Joe pose as veterans while wearing hats that read "USS Nathan James", they are called out by Eric Dane and are sentenced to serve in the Coast Guard, Quagmire volunteers due to the fact that he was a Navy ensign.
  • Fugget About It: When Cheech realizes that his Witness Protection alias is 100 years old, he decides to pretend to be a World War II veteran in order to get free beer. Real World War II veterans eventually realize the truth and beat him up.
  • Phil from Hey Arnold! told a story wherein he gave Adolf Hitler himself a wedgie. He is called out for this by Arnold (although Phil readily admits the Hitler part was just a joke) 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.
  • 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 false (and it's suggested that this was simply him misremembering events rather than an attempt at stolen valor), but the Pacific part is true — it's kind of hard to argue with a man who doesn't have shins anymore, and the Army doesn't hand out those ribbons and medals to soldiers just for asking nicely. Then there's his illegitimate son conceived with a Japanese nurse he held a short affair with.
  • Andy Anderson of Life with Louie defines this trope — he has over hundreds of stories about alleged heroic acts during World War Two. When Louie actually writes them all down for a school project, other kids quickly point out how some of them are borderline impossible, require him to be in two different countries at the same time, or require him to 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 paling in comparison.
  • Quasi-inverted on Rugrats, where Grandpa Lou talks about how "that old mattress saved my life in World War II"... by tripping him up and causing him to break his leg, allowing him to be honorably discharged for medical reasons a day before he was supposed to go onto the front lines.
  • The Simpsons:
    • 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.
    • Principal Seymour Skinner is somewhat honest about his Vietnam experiences and somewhat not. It's often hard to tell in any case because of the series' Negative Continuity. He claims to be an ex-Green Beret and has the fighting skills to back it up (although what he employs are fairly standard self-defense techniques that he could have learned anywhere), and he also claims to have been a POW - and given the genuinely bitter, haunted way he relates this experience, it's hard to imagine that he's lying. However, Skinner did lie on one point: he claimed to be a gung-ho platoon commander, when in fact he was just a common soldier. In fact, he went so far as to assume the identity of the original Sergeant Skinner (his real name was "Armin Tamzarian"), although this was primarily out of pity for (the real) Skinner's mother after her son was (supposedly) killed. Eventually, the citizens of Springfield decide to just drop the whole matter, and Armin Tamzarian returns to being "Seymour Skinner."
  • South Park has the boys ask Jimbo and Ned about their experiences in Vietnam for a school project. Jimbo goes on to spin a ridiculous yarn about the two of them wiping out the entire Viet Cong army by themselves with Ned's loss of an arm as their own casualty. Also, they claim that their base camp was basically a funfair with rollercoasters and log flumes. Turns out that part's actually true, as they meet up with another Vietnam veteran who claimed that his own duty station in Tet didn't have as many fancy rides as Jimbo and Ned's one in Da Nang. The boys fake an encounter with The Mexican Staring Frog Of Southern Sri Lanka in retaliation. The truth is that Jimbo and Ned were in Vietnam, but Jimbo gave the kids a literal Theme Park Version because he didn't find his war stories appropriate.


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