07/07/2019 by militaryphonies
Background and Disclaimer
This story has a lot of twists and turns and complicated nuances. However, we felt that this story would serve as a good example to help illustrate the challenges faced by newspaper and television broadcast organizations, fraternal veterans organizations, and those of us that look into stolen valor in an effort to perform accurate military verification.
First and foremost we would like to say that those of us that work Stolen Valor make a sincere effort to respect all veterans and their service to this country. Whenever we get a case that involves a highly decorated combat veteran we tend to tread lightly as to what we are asserting so as not to give any appearance that we did not respect that veteran’s contributions to this country. We have been criticized in the past, and people have attempted to assign all kinds of false motives to our efforts. It is our hope that to lay bare some of the verification process used in this case we can illustrate the landmines that one must navigate in order to get the story right.
Although the data is sometimes not precise or incorrect, interpreting it is an art and not a science. Often results from several different sources must be combined to obtain a complete picture. This process is like walking a tightrope when considering someone’s military career, because it is vitally important to get it right.
We also feel it is important to give a brief background on each of the people involved with this as it will be easier to follow.
James Edward Weathers comes to us from Sierra Vista, Arizona but is originally from Arkansas. He frequently goes by “Eddie.” Weathers is 49 years old as of July 2019.
Weathers is the Commander of Chapter 572 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Sierra Vista, Arizona and has been for several years.
The following story was submitted to us but we do not think this account of what happened is in dispute:
On *May 23rd 2019, Mr. Weathers and a crew were manning a MOPH table and collecting donations outside Fry’s Supermarket in Sierra Vista, AZ.
* Mr. Weathers claims that the date is May 24th 2019. We don’t think the date matters to a large degree, nor is it in dispute, but we note the difference.
Mr. Donald Childs, also a veteran, approached the table and asked or was told by Mr. Weathers that Mr. Weathers had four (4) Purple Hearts. Mr. Childs was taken aback and exclaimed that it was a lot and that he’d like to see Mr. Weathers’ DD-214.
The rest is a little unclear, but there was some angst between the two men and this anger led to a physical altercation.
It has been reported that Mr. Childs was wearing a Silver Star medal, three (3) Bronze Star Medals w/”V”s and two (2) Purple Hearts as opposed to a single Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster that also symbolizes two (2) Purple Hearts.
It should be emphasized that Mr. Childs was not and never was the subject of our investigation.
The men were separated and Fry’s store manager is aware of the incident but nobody believes that the police got involved.
Mr. Weathers made people aware of the incident and Mr. Childs contacted Military Phony.
ARIZONA STATE ADJUTANT
We are unsure how this came about, nor do we know who contacted him first, but the Adjutant, Department of Arizona, Military Order of the Purple Heart – Mr. Larry Leighton – was contacted about an alleged Stolen Valor complaint.
Emails starting going around and we spoke with Mr. Leighton directly.
As we understand it, there was a DD-214 that was provided to Mr. Leighton, then to Mr. Childs, and subsequently to us that stated that Mr. Weathers did indeed have FOUR Purple Hearts recorded on a DD-214.
Although this was useful information, it did not put the matter to rest. As investigators, we have to establish a clean chain-of-custody to acquire what we term “official military records.” This particular document had passed through several people’s hands and there was no guarantee of its authenticity. This is a matter of practice and good policy and we do this in all cases from informants unknown to us.
Mr. Leighton pointed out that it was stamped by the Cochise County Courthouse (Bottom of page 2) and that should speak for it being official.
This document copy was faded and scratchy, but the date appeared to be May (05) of 2012. Can’t quite make out the exact day.
We may have caused some confusion by use of the term “official military documents” and we went on to explain that by “official” we mean directly from the National Archives with no intermediate handling of it.
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ACTIONS CONDUCTED BY MILITARY PHONIES
Mr. Weathers’ military records were ordered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Prior to his service in the US Army, he had served in the US Marine Corps.
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FOIA RESULTS – SELECTED
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE MANPOWER DATA CENTER (DoDMDC / SCRA)
This database did not show Weathers’ service in the United States Marine Corps. While it is generally reliable, results can only offer confirmation in the positive. This means that if there is a positive result, great. If there is no result, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t serve. This data is used as a pointer to establish the range of service dates, to help in deciding which government organization would hold a members records.
The above result is incorrect. This was the period in which Weathers was in the Marine Corps vs. the Army. This database apparently does not do too well with individuals that have served in different services, although strangely enough it got the dates right.
Again, not elegant but the DoDMDC does provide a rough order of magnitude and gives a quick look at when the individual may have served.
NATIONAL PERSONNEL RECORDS CENTER (NPRC)
These are clipped and condensed information from the Award section of the NA FORM 13164, which is a NPRC Summary Sheet. As a general rule, the NPRC does not provide a redacted DD-214, although on rare occassions they do. Instead, they provide a Summary Sheet that has information transcribed from various parts of the military record, but primarily from the DD-214. The red is our annotations, and the information has been tucked tighter to save space in its presentation, but is unaltered.
Since the Summary Sheet lists two (2) Purple Hearts, we tried to account for a highly unlikely event of transcriber error so asked the NPRC what it states for the Purple Heart award in the DD-214 Awards section. We compared them top/bottom and annotated in red.
The ‘Decorations & Awards’ section was virtually identical right down to the slashes, line breaks, spacing, and character flaws – all except the ‘2ND’ vs. ‘4TH’ award of the Purple Heart. This is even more pronounced when one is templated over the other. Slight variance due to rotational difference.
The above image was annotated in red but here is the original document supplied by NPRC from a request focused on the number of Purple Heart awards.
FOIA RESULTS – COMPLETE
Here is Weathers’ Combat Action Ribbon (CAR) from Operation Desert Storm.
As with the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center, the results of the USMC CAR / HSM database is not 100% reliable. In this case it is for Weathers’ CAR.
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DISCUSSION and SUMMARY
PHOTOS AND ARTICLES
Although now a moot point for reasons we will explain very soon, we tried to pinpoint when there were claims of four Purple Hearts.
Mr. Weathers, by nature of his generous work with the community of Sierra Vista AZ has been featured in the local newspapers.
This article/photo, with a digital photo placed beside it for clarity, shows then SFC Weathers with a Purple Heart and one oak leaf cluster – which designates two Purple Heart awards. This is dated 21 November 2010.
Weathers’ got out of the Army on 17 May 2012.
And his assigments from 21 November 2010 (article/photo) to 17 May 2012 seem to indicate that he was in CONUS (Continential United States vs. OCONUS which is Outside the Continential United States). His assignments show that he was stationed at “USA GARRISON FT HUACHU” from April 21, 2010 (20100421) until April 18, 2011 (20110418) when he was then stationed at “WT CO A WARRIORS FT AZ” where his duty title was designated to be “WARRIOR IN TRANSITION.”
The date of end of service is official, but usually a member gets “terminal leave” and is allowed to use up any leave that they have not used. This may explain a date on the Cochise County Courthouse stamp that appears to be 07 May 2012 or some early date in May prior to Weathers’ official release date. The exact day is hard to read.
The point here is that it would be near impossible to earn a Purple Heart at these CONUS duty stations unless there was a terrorist attack on base. Purple Hearts were awarded for the Fort Hood Texas and Chattanooga Tennessee Reserve Center shootings. That said, there would be a possibility of two previous Purple Heart awards catching up to him.
Then, there are several photos of Mr. Weathers that clearly show him wearing a Purple Heart with a single Oak Leaf Cluster which designates two awards.
This article, dated August 2017 also shows the Purple Heart medal with one Oak Leaf cluster.
MOPH CHAPTER 572 WEBSITE
On their “Speak Your Mind / Email Us” section of the MOPH Chapter 572 website, you can fill out the form but the CAPCHA graphic is broken at the bottom so one can never send it.
CHAPTER 572 JUDGE ADVOCATE and SENIOR VICE COMMANDER
An email was sent to all officers, but specifically to their Judge Advocate who is listed as James Hebert.
I am looking to get confirmation on something.
I have heard that the Commander of MOPH Ch. 572, James “Eddie” Weathers, has been awarded 4 (four) Purple Heart medals for wounds in combat.
Can you or anyone at your organization confirm that is indeed the case?
This was Mr. Hebert’s reply…
Joseph Hebert: “That is indeed true. Commander Weather’s is a 4 time purple heart recipient.”
Thinking we have found someone non-partial, and if not an attorney was at least functioning as one… we provided evidence of the four vs. two Purple Heart question. We thought, but later realized we thought incorrectly, that Mr. Hebert would be someone that could do some kind of internal review or investigation. We were wrong. Hours later he seemed to backtrack…
I am not in a position to state on the record the military career or decoration of another soldier. Entrance into the Military Order of the Purple only requires the recipient be awarded the Purple Heart on one occasion for lifetime membership. Not every time a soldier is wounded in combat zone, do they receive the Purple Heart. Mr. Weathers and Mr. Childs had an altercation at a grocery store in the greater Sierra Vista AZ area and I believe this entire matter is an attempt to smear another’s service record in the public eye. Mr. Weathers has never made a public appearance wearing more than “2” Purple Heart medals or stated on the record anything other than that. What two soldiers say to one another in the heat of the moment or under stress, may differ when cooler heads prevail in recollection. Mr. Weathers serves in a capacity as the Commander of the Carrol M. Fyffe Memorial Chapter 572 here in Sierra Vista, AZ and has never brought discredit or provided anything but the utmost best in his leadership of the local Order. Also I wonder what agenda this is pursuing, as he has not claimed an award that is not listed on either DD-214 in question and he has never misrepresented himself, the United States Military, or the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
So, that brought that to a close quickly, but it also confirmed that people that are around Mr. Weathers are under the impression that he has four Purple Hearts. However, now distinctions are being made about what constitutes the award of the Purple Heart.
We asked Mr. Hebert if he was an attorney in his position as Judge Advocate, or if he felt any obligation to determine if a DD-214 had been submitted for membership that may have an incorrect number of Purple Hearts on it. He said that the Judge Advocate position is an old one that he held and he now holds the title of Sr Senior Vice Commander of Chapter 572. Yet, he is currently listed as the Judge Advocate:
As well as being listed as the Chapter 572 Adjutant…
The reason for pointing this out is that it seemed that Joseph Hebert was the correct individual to go through with our questions.
We again asked Mr. Hebert if he was an attorney in his position as Judge Advocate, or if he felt any obligation to determine if a DD-214 had been submitted for membership that may have an incorrect number of Purple Hearts on it? This was his response…
Joseph Hebert: I am done talking with you. I request that you no longer contact me regarding this manner.
Emails sent to the MOPH Chapter 572 officers bounce as undeliverable, including the SrVCmdr@moph572.org which presumably is that of Mr. Hebert in his new role. We may have either been blocked or it is broken just as their feedback page is. We also get a bounce/undeliverable message with the Commander@moph572.org and don’t know why that is.
To his credit, Eddie Weathers got back with us. We will not post the conversation for sake of length and out of respect. We will paraphrase these conversations with some quotes at the risk of getting them wrong, but we have the original correspondence should there be any dispute about our characterization.
When we first attempted to contact Mr. Weathers late June 2019, Mr. Larry Leighton relayed to us that Mr. Weathers was out of town until July 3rd and would respond as well as provide a clearer copy of the DD-214.
We waited until beyond July 4th as to not bother Mr. Weathers on a holiday, especially the 4th of July.
We sent another email on Friday 5th July. Mr. Weathers responded but stated that he needed another 3 or 4 days to address this issue.
We replied saying respectfully that we wanted to know how many Purple Heart medals he was awarded. We said that a simple keystroke of “4” or “2” was sufficient and we could not fully understand how 3 days was the time needed to provide an answer to this question.
Mr. Weathers responded again and explained that the answer would not be captured in a single keystroke. He went on to explain the difference, in his words, of “earned” vs. “awarded.” For this I will quote him.
As to your question of what I ‘claim:’ Throughout my career that I blessed to serve this great Nation, I have only worn or claimed what I felt I had earned vs. been awarded.
I ‘earned’ two Purple Hearts, but was also wounded on two other occasions. And (using the dates you provided earlier) I was wounded in an IED strike on JULY (not June) 26, 2006 in which I ‘earned’ the legit award of a Purple Heart Medal, and again later on September 15-16, 2006 by direct fire (GSW) and RPG shrapnel.
So, in essence to your ‘simple key stroke’ answer. Throughout my career from 1987 to 2012, I was ‘wounded’ (with multiple wounds each time) on four different occasions and I EARNED two Purple Heart Medals.
NOTE: We explained that the dates we provided for his two awarded Purple Hearts were obtained from an article in the Sierra Vista Herald dated August 17, 2017. We simply went by what was printed.
We replied and said although we understand and can appreciate his characterization of “earned” vs. “awarded” – his very organization would deny membership if someone applied with no supportive documentation but “felt” strongly that they “earned” a Purple Heart.
SIDENOTE: The “KMA Purple Heart”
During these discussions we mentioned stories we have heard from other individuals. There is the one angle where many veterans claim that “I was going to get the Purple Heart but I told them to shove it up their ass” or the “Kiss My Ass (KMA) Purple Heart” variation of this same story. They will usually go on to state a noble reason why they refused a Purple Heart and it is usually because their buddies were more severely wounded and even killed.
If this indeed happened, then it is our opinion that they got the value from their nobility at that moment in time so why speak about it 20-50 years later? It seems like it is a way to say that they rate the Purple Heart but it was never awarded and therefore does not show up on their records. This is not noble. If one did not want it, why do they feel the need to talk about it beyond the date they allegedly refused the award?
The “KMA Purple Heart” story does not apply to Mr. Weathers other than the similar notion that one has a story to explain an undocumented Purple Heart vs. having it officially recorded in their military records.
Doug Sterner, who wrote a book called “Restoring Valor: One Couple’s Mission to Expose Fraudulent War Heroes and Protect America’s Military Awards System” is now spending his time recording valor medals for Military Times says that “medals are meant to bestowed, not taken.”
There was some more back and forth but in the end Mr. Weathers said he wanted to discuss this matter with his wife and after that discussion he would be writing up a statement that he would distribute to everybody.
We did not get the clearer version of the DD-214 provided to Mr. Larry Leighton, but we did not press further. We sensed that Mr. Weathers was being frank about the situation and recognized the need to address it formally.
We want to state in the way of full disclosure that Don Childs donated money to Military Phony. Although we appreciate donations, they are not necessary when we work a case. It has no bearing on whether we publish a case or not. Often, we do not publish if the facts take us to that place. This was explained to Mr. Childs and he said that his purpose was due to him being mindful and appreciative of the amount of research that we were doing and the time that we spent on the case.
We do require donations for the military verification efforts that we do. This involves family members wanting service verification for a loved one that has passed on or for building shadow boxes for a display. These are things that we do not publish. We inform people that they can order records themselves for free, but if they wish us to order them we try and add value by making specific requests for exact documents as well as provide brief interpretations of the records since the abreviations and cryptic nature of “clerk-speak” can prove daunting.
The stolen valor cases that we work and publish are considered valuable to the public and we would never charge for.
Don Childs is an interesting individual and his situation warranted diving further into due to Mr. Weathers asking about the Silver Star he was wearing in May 2019.
Childs is easily found on the internet and books due to his participation in the Battle of Duc Lap in Vietnam. This was an intense and horrendous battle and if you are not familiar with it, it is worth reading about.
Childs’ story appeared in the book “Unlikely Warriors” by authors Lonnie M. Long and Gary B. Blackburn. In this book, a photo appeared on page 280 that was captioned as Don Childs being awarded the Silver Star for the battle. Childs is the tall man being awarded the medal in the photo.
But, this photo was discovered in a book by James L. Gilbert titled “The Most Secret War – Army Signals Intelligence in Vietnam” which is out of print and the reason it is listed on Amazon for over $900. It is archived on line so you don’t have to pay the $900+.
This photo incorrectly labels Childs as Hall, but also claims it is a Bronze Star Medal that is being awarded. Does the inaccurate label in the photo discount it all the way around?
The authors of “Unlikely Warriors” were tracked down and asked about this photo. They then asked Don Childs for his permission to address questions about their book and the photos. Don agreed.
Also, Don Childs did not have a Silver Star in his official military records.
We are still waiting to hear back from the authors about the Silver Star ceremony photo but Don gave an explanation as to why the Silver Star did not appear in his records.
To paraphrase, the award was in December 1968 and he got out in September 1968. He did not care that much about it appearing in his records so never pursued getting it corrected. He offered these documents to us:
The following two newspaper accounts are consistent with his claim that the award caught up to him later, but did not catch up to his military records.
The actual Silver Star citation was destroyed in a house fire, but clips of it can be read in the Tucson Daily Citizen article above.
At this point it all became a little confusing to us what direction we were taking. Don Childs was never the subject of any investigation, but we felt the overall story of one highly decorated veteran challenging another highly decorated veteran would prove to be interesting. That is the only reason we were pursing it.
We’ll leave it right there as far as Mr. Childs, but would like to see him get his official record corrected if he is going to wear the Silver Star pinned to his clothing. We will even help him fill out the necessary paperwork.
The bottom line for Mr. Childs is: he has not been and is not being accused of Stolen Valor. Although ultimately it will prove difficult to determine, the facts point to him appearing to rate all of the medals he claims, including the Silver Star.
INACCURACIES AND BLAME
To return to the original premise of this article – it is challenging to get useful evidence about one’s military claims. This involves establishing a clean chain of custody and lots of research… bucu.
We don’t know if there is a smoking gun as far as evidence is concerned, but there is plenty of blame to go around.
We’ll start with ourselves…
Military Phony — In an email, we mentioned to Mr. Childs on a preliminary sweep that we did not see military service in the Marine Corps for Mr. Weathers. This is because the DoD Manpower Database mislabled his Marine Corps service as Army. Although a true statement i.e. that we did not see any Marine Corps service – this was never intended to go out since it is predecisional discovery. This got back to Mr. Weathers and we explained it was never meant for the public and was not an accusation, but a statement of fact. Later, the NPRC results confirmed his military service with the Marine Corps. We need to be careful with what we say to people in private discussions, as they may leak out and have unintended consequences. Mr. Weathers seemed to accept our explanation.
Mr. Childs — We consider ourselves professionals in the field of stolen valor. As such, we do not advocate calling someone out without all the facts. However, these are situations where military experiences and claims are very personal with many having lost buddies in war. That underscores our point, however – passion may not be the best guide and can have a situation quickly elevate out of hand. In the end it appears Mr. Childs’ hunch was probably correct about the amount of Purple Hearts, but assumptions are not the best guide.
Also, Mr. Childs has provided us proof that he is making steps toward correcting his military records to accurately account for the Silver Star award.
Mr. Weathers — There is some official paperwork inconsistency that probably needs cleared up. Mr. Weathers has promised to address all of this in a formal way soon. At the end of this when the fog is lifted – according to statements by Mr. Larry Leighton there apparently exists a DD-214 in the Cochise County Courthouse that says that Mr. Weathers has 4 awards of the Purple Heart. This is a federal document and if there was any alteration to it, that needs to be investigated and light brought to it. As a MOPH Chapter Commander, Weathers would seem obligated to either lead or appoint someone independently to look into this in order to align himself with the National MOPH organization. From the National MOPH website:
[NOTE: After this was posted, Mr. Weathers later claimed that the DD-214 at the Cochise County Courthouse was not altered and correctly lists two (2) awards of the Purple Heart. Mr. Weathers futher claims that a DD-214 was altered for the single purpose of supplying it to Mr. Childs with a designation of four (4) awards in order to settle their dispute about the number of Purple Hearts awarded.]
Then, to those individuals that disputed the authenticity of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), we would encourage anyone to obtain records directly to establish a clean chain of custody. The National MOPH endorses the NPRC for all applications.
Everyone – Please do not claim medals that you either did not earn or are not supported in your official military records. There will be embarrasment over this if someone challenges you or reports you.
We very rarely do commentary beyond presenting the facts of a case. In this case, because it is unique, we wish to provide an op-ed summary.
The non-veteran general public may not really fully understand this back and forth over what some have asked “what’s the big deal over a little bit of metal and cloth?”
They may not understand that this is how we veterans behave in a world that no longer sees rank on someone’s sleeve. This immediacy is now gone for those of us that left the service. Instead, we tend to exchange small bits of our history in order to establish rank or acceptance – who had it bad, who had it worse. Jungle warfare is different than desert warfare, and both are different that urban fighting. Who was a POG (People Other than Grunts) and who was in “the suck.”
At the end of our discovery process, these men – Mr. Childs and Mr. Weathers – were both highly distinguished combat veterans and deserving of our respect.
If you have not read about the battle of Duc Lap in Vietnam it is something you should set aside time to read. The amount of casualties sustained was horrendous. Back then, one could say you at least you knew your enemy was. Dealing with IEDs takes its toll on your psyche, so even riding along a highway is not without its peril. I could go on…
These men should be remembered for their sacrifice and heroics on battlefields in a faraway land and not for some confrontation in front of a Fry’s supermarket – with no disrespect meant to Fry’s.
Call me an idealist – but perhaps some business in the Sierra Vista area will sponsor a lunch for the both of these gentlemen and give them each a plus one. This would allow them to spend a few minutes around each other and talk a little bit. Maybe they will find out they are more alike than different.
What I find interesting is when they talk about the bond from combat, the “Band of Brothers” effect, it is not immediate and is probably specific to whom one served with.
If civilians still have a difficult time understanding what all the fuss is about, please try and appreciate that the experiences that each of these men had were uniquely special to them and cannot be expressed adequately by a medal on their chest.
They each have suffered great loss. They recall men they served with that never had a full life, perhaps never got married or had children.
We probably wouldn’t have normally published this case, because we felt that there were enough minor flaws in the evidence to go around. Then again, there were enough questions that it warranted bringing some light onto it.
Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It is our hope that some good will come of all of this.
In the end, we felt it was a good case to illustrate the complexities that go into verifying someone’s military service.
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(MOPH – CH 572) FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/MOPH572/