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.
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 behaviour 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 using these claims for the purpose of obtaining tangible benefit isn't. In Europe, it is flat-out illegal in many circumstances.
That said, 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 not only exposed but widely ridiculed, 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. Many 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.
- Black Lagoon: Dutch, the captain of the boat and leader of the company, long had a Backstory of being a Vietnam-era riverboat veteran; however, during the "El Baile de la Muerte" arc, an Army Delta Force operator who was active in the same period realizes Dutch doesn't recognize common GI slang terms and claims to have been in a unit that wasn't at a battle he cites. The newest arc, "L'homme sombre", is hinting that he may in fact be an escaped African war criminal.
- 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.
- 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 (an expy 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 to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Planes: Dusty's mentor Skipper is an old reclusive war veteran who keeps telling heroic stories about his time serving in the Jolly Wrenches. When looking at the hall of fame during his stay on the U.S.S. Flysenhower, Dusty is shocked to find out that Skipper only flew one mission, one that failed spectacularly as his entire squadron was shot down due to him miscalculating the danger. Still, the incident has traumatized Skipper so badly, that he couldn't bring himself to fly anymore, let alone tell anyone the truth. Dusty feels betrayed by this.
- In Back to the Future, while stuck in the 1950's, Marty uses the cover identity of a returning Coast Guard to explain away his 80's-era clothing.
- 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 Botched, Boris claims to be a veteran of Spetsnez, but he has to consult his mercenary magazine to work out how to rig up a Booby Trap, and it doesn't even work.
- 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 involve 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 Pushkin gives a scathing rundown of his actual military record, which begins with expulsion from West Point for cheating and goes down from there.
- Not Okay: A variant in that the story is all about Danni being a fake survivor of a real terrorist attack.
- 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.)
- In A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die!, Eli pretends to be a veteran who has lost a leg in the war to try to con people out of food. Which unit he claims to have served with changes depending on who he is talking to.
- 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.
- Ronin (1998): 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.
- Semi-Pro: Lou, one of Jackie's buddies/game commentators, claims that he was in Vietnam during a poker game. The others at the table all groan as he "recalls" his experience fending off Charlie in "the shit", earning the rebuke "Is 'the shit' in Ann Arbor? Cause that's where you were during the war."
- 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 genuine veterans, question his story, it quickly falls apart. Claiming that his service record was classified because he was Agent Orange didn't help either.
- 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 bluster his way into a lucrative security job but is woefully unprepared when actual trouble comes knocking.
- Ben Snow: In "Snow in Yucatan", Ben travels to Mexico in search of Wade Chancer, a Dangerous Deserter from the Rough Riders. When Ben finds him, he is assembling an army of Indians and styling himself as a general. His uniform includes two medals he stole off dead men and claims to have won.
- 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 (some of his comments imply he actually did see combat, and didn't enjoy it one bit.
- 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!".
- Discussed in Frontlines: Terms of Enlistment. After transferring from the North American Territorial Army to the Navy and having to start at the bottom again, protagonist Andrew Grayson shows up to his new post sporting a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, which would be deeply unusual for a fresh Navy recruit of his age. His CO briefly takes him to task for an apparently-common recruit tactic of trying to impress people with ribbons bought in the PX, but Andrew assures him he earned them the hard way and the CO apologizes after getting the explanation.
- 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.
- 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 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 is never confirmed.
- Barry: Fuches actually did serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, but as a cook. When he tries to make his service sound more impressive than it was, Barry - usually an Extreme Doormat - calls him out and points out he never even stepped foot in Vietnam, having spent the war working at a barrack in Connecticut.
- In an episode of Better Call Saul, Jimmy dresses an old man in uniform and uses the story that he flew bombers in WWII to scam his way onto an active Air Force base so he can shoot a commercial. 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 actual service in the war, since he accurately corrects Jimmy about the service of the B-29 bomber.
- 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 false 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.
- In "Apocalypse", he claims to have "Hurt my leg in the Falklands Conflict".
- In The Boys, like the original comic, Fake Ultimate Hero and Captain America expy Soldier Boy never actually served in WWII, instead being used as a propaganda piece and Super Cop by the government. However, he's an Adaptational Badass and narcissist who ends up Believing Their Own Lies to the point that he genuinely believes that he was a veteran discarded by his country, and decks Hughie for questioning it.
- The beginning of the very first episode of Cheers has a kid trying to use 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.
- 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 phony trumped-up bullshit, the true stories he didn't tell about his days in Vietnam are much much worse.
- The Code (2019) 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 sneers at his wife that "I killed four men!" she says to a guest "He was in the Catering Corps. He used to poison them." He also claims to have shrapnel embedded in his thigh that gives him problems, although the pain flares up at suspiciously convenient moments for him.
- 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 about 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 during Vietnam. 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 his 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 ("And a lot of good men died in that 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.
- 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.
- 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 saw combat, let alone did anything that would have 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.
- 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", implicitly making him this trope.
- In one episode Elliot's father, the Chief of Medicine of a high-priced private hospital, visits Scared Herat and claims it's the worst he's seen since Korea. Dr. Kelso, a Korean War veteran who actually served in combat, sarcastically replies "Oh, where in Connecticut was your National Guard unit posted?"
- 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.
- 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 never actually served in combat 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 (1959): "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."
- The Tim Buckley song "Nighthawking" has the narrator do this to cool down an Ax-Crazy Shell-Shocked Veteran whom he picked up in his cab that started holding a switchblade to his throat.
"Then he whipped out this switch blade
Straight outta nowhere level to my throat
He said 'You ever been over to the war boy?'
I said 'Man I was a combat paratrooper daddy'
Well then he slump back cool and he pocket that steel
He said 'Take me down to Fourth and Main'
Ah that paratroop bluff always cools oh the red eyed geezers down"
- 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
- 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.note
- 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.
- Sgt. Slaughter, to some extent. Robert Remus never served, but has told stories supposedly "in character" about being infantry in Vietnam, and is used for appearances at veteran benefit events alongside WWE's actual former Marines Jackson Ryker and Lacey Evans.
- 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.)
- 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.
- In the Far Harbor DLC for Fallout 4, the Sole Survivor can be sent by the Harbor's local bar owner Mitch to check up on his Uncle Ken out at an old National Park center. Though he dresses in old military fatigues, Ken's not an actual military veteran, given the fact that the last real war was over 200 years ago so he can't be that old. But he does live in-land on The Island of which surviving there for longer than a day requires a special sort of mettle to accomplish, thus giving a blend of this and Old Soldier. The player can even find more than a few Trapper and feral ghoul corpses littering the outside of the Visitor Center when first arriving there to meet him.
- 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've 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.
- Halo Infinite features a downplayed example in that the matter was a lie of omission more than an active and malicious deception. Late in the story, it's revealed that the dropship pilot that Master Chief has roped into his mission, and who up until this point has been very desperate to flee back to friendly territory, is actually a civilian maintenance technician who stole one of the UNSC Infinity's dropships in an attempt to escape the losing battle in the game's opening cutscene. He feels deep remorse and Survivor's Guilt over it, and by the game's ending has resolved to stay by Chief's side and help him retake Zeta Halo.
- 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 provide details like which company he'd been with and what engagements he took part in. Cole, an actual former Sixth Marines officer, is not amused.
Earle: Don't you love it when they pull the "war hero" excuse? ...Actually, maybe you don't.
Cole: (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.
- A suspect in the DLC case "The Naked City" claims to have served with the 6th Marine Regiment at Okinawa but struggles to provide details like which company he'd been with and what engagements he took part in. Cole, an actual former Sixth Marines officer, is not amused.
- In Mass Effect 2, Conrad Verner, Shepard’s Loony Fan from the previous game, shows up at a bar on Illium wearing an N7 armor suit and threatening that “I’m a man on the edge! I’ve got nothing to lose!” He is attempting to extort the deed to the bar, claiming it is a front for a drug operation. When Shepard quizzes Conrad about how he got the armor, Conrad admits that it’s just a cheap knockoff replica and that he doesn’t have any military training or combat experience. Shepard can either just complain, kick Conrad way down there, or shoot his foot.
- In Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ex-Alliance marine lieutenant turned settlement mayor, August Bradley will consider Ryder to be one, if you walk around in your dad’s N7 armor. Although Ryder also had a short stint in the Alliance marines, and is now the Initiative’s Pathfinder, Bradley admonishes you for wearing an armor you never actually qualified for.
- In Psychonauts, Coach Oleander's mindscape is themed entirely around war due to having served himself, which is shown in a Memory Vault containing a recollection of the battles he took part in. Upon revisiting the level, you can find a Memory Vault that reveals that Coach Oleander made everything up. According to the memory, he was never involved in a war and was actually rejected by quite literally every branch of the military, including the catering corps, just because of his height. Granted, as an official Psychonaut, he is a government agent - not quite military, but close enough.
- Repton: In the "OAP" scenario of The Life of Repton, Repton collects war medals instead of diamonds. The comic strip cover implies that he tells stories at the local pub about his military career in order to get free drinks. Then a fellow drinker notices that one of the medals is from the Battle of Waterloo!
- 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.
- Principal Longfellow from Better Days, while courting Sheila Black, claimed to be a Vietnam veteran who served with Sheila's husband Jim, who died there. In fact, he only briefly served at a supply depot in Okinawa and had never even met Jim. When his lie was exposed, he attempted to rape Sheila. Later it turns out Jim wasn't honest about his time in the military either, albeit for different reasons.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: No one said wars can't be waged against home furnishings.
- Terminal Lance:
- #211: "Stolen Valor": Abe overhears a guy in a surplus-store uniform and ribbons telling tall tales to some bar girls, and shuts him down by telling the guy that "you left your HIV meds at my place." He then offers condoms to the girls, just to be nice. In The Rant, author Max Uriarte (a former Marine infantryman with service in Iraq) explains that he finds people who do this more pitiable than infuriating, believing that they think their real lives are so lame they have to spice them up by cosplaying as veterans.
- #370: "Stealing the Valor": Abe and Garcia run into a chubby guy in Marine fatigues and start yelling at him for stolen valor. Garcia asks him what his MOS is—assuming he'll say he was in some awesome combat job—and the guy replies "I'm a 92-Alpha Automated Logistical Specialist!" He leaves grinning evilly while Abe and Garcia try to figure out if that's even a real MOS. (It is, albeit in the US Army rather than the Marines.)
- In the VG Cats strip "The Big Top," Leo offers to give people who can't afford an Xbox 360 the chance to "live the experience", including an old man who tells war stories - "he hasn't gone to war but he does get The History Channel".
- 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").
- A one-off example which is mostly Played for Laughs occurs in the Dream SMP when it's revealed that ConnorEatsPants tried to use a military ID he got from the L'Manberg crater at a Chick-fil-A to get a discount, by pretending to be the person in the ID.note This ends up being deconstructed when Sam, the Warden of the local prison, ends up arresting and imprisoning Connor for this off-screen... and he gets inducted into the Jailbreak by Technoblade in the Season 3 finale six months later.
- 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.
- In Celebrity Deathmatch, Nick Diamond, feeling inadequate due to it being the 4th of July and Johnny Gomez being a Grenada Vet, claims to have fought in Vietnam. Johnny Gomez is suspicious since he never mentioned it before but Nick says it was due to bad memories. Nick spends the rest of the episode making reference to 'Nam and stars wearing face paint, medals, a knife, a dented helmet, and a necklace of dried human ears. It's revealed in the end that his attire was stolen from the veteran guests, who gang up on Nick to get them back.
Nick: Hey wait! I'm a hero! I was over in 'Nam fighting Charlie, I swear!
Veteran: The only Charlie you seen in Vietnam is Charlie Sheen!
- 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 a discount on 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 tricking them into eating 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 telling the ticket vendor that he lost his friends at the Battle of Margaret Cho.
- Subverted by Grampa — when he tells Bart about his experiences in World War One, Bart 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 oversized 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 think that his war stories would be appropriate for children.