Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Visible Lies

No wonder Larry Masters is homeless. The poor fellow was sent off to Vietnam to become a “tunnel rat” -- one of the most dangerous and traumatic duties in that horrible war -- when he was just 14-years-old.

Or maybe, just maybe, he duped the Sun-Sentinel in one of the most common tricks played on reporters: The ol' fake Vietnam Vet con.

A sharp Palm Beach Post reporter gave the Pulp the heads-up on a slight discrepancy in photographer Robert Mayer's homeless photo gallary, titled Invisible Lives, that was published in the Sunday paper. Larry Masters, who is 51 years-old, told this story:

“I'm a Vietnam veteran. I served from 1969 to 1971. I was a tunnel rat because I'm small. But I got out in '71. I came home, and I messed up. Then, I met my wife and we moved down here. … I worked in roofing, carpentry and [Hurricane] Andrew and all that. I made money, I got us a house, and we lived together."My wife, she went out and she got on dope, so then she was ripping off dope dealers. … They gave her some corrosion off a battery of a car. She had a brain hemorrhage, and she died. It ruined my life. …"

It's an interesting story, but if he’s telling the truth, he went to Vietnam at 14 and left the jungle at 16 as a grizzled veteran. Either Masters got his own age wrong, or he's lying about his service in Vietnam. The Pulp is putting its money on the latter. And there are few things that piss off real Vietnam vets more than a poser.

You sort of expect this kind of thing if you're a reporter. In fact, my editor didn't believe it the day it came out and told me so. Neither of us noticed the date discrepancy -- but you'd think the Sentinel would have done it before so prominently publishing Masters' story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

has anybody checked the man's military record? it's not that hard to do. come on pulp, thought you were a reporter.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Remember many years ago I read a book by Bill Burkett called "Stolen Valor." He describes how the fakes, wannabes, and exaggerators have tainted and tarnished the reputations of Vietnam Vets with the willing help of the news media. Those of us who managed to get through without becoming homeless and drug users, and who lead productive lives, owe him a debt of gratitude for his work exposing people like the one in your article. He can use all the help he can get, I bet, so keep checking on these fakes.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bob!

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, it is fairly hard to check a military record. I used to cover the Navy at a large daily paper in Florida, and it was almost impossible to confirm someone's claim of being a veteran unless you had months of lead time and their Social Security Number. There are ways to do a little more than take someone's word for it, but getting definite confirmation is bloody difficult.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Census figures show that 13,853,027 Americans claimed in 2000 to have served in Vietnam when, in fact, 2,709,918 actually did. Four out of five who claim to be Vietnam veterans are lying. ... Making it even harder to check claims of military service was a fire at the St. Louis record keeping center that destroyed many service records. ... Great post, Bob.
-- Jim Greenhill
(disclosures: I'm an honorary VFW member & an active duty Army sgt.)

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