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Military imposter

A military imposter is a person who makes false claims about his or her military service in civilian life. This includes claims by people that have never been in the military as well as lies or embellishments by genuine veterans. Some individuals who do this also wear privately obtained uniforms or medals which were never officially issued to them.

In British military slang, such imposters are called "Walts", based on James Thurber's fictional character, Walter Mitty, who daydreamed of being a war hero. In the United States since the early 2000s, the term "stolen valor" has become popular slang for this kind of behavior, so named for the 1998 book of that name. Other terms include "fake warriors", "military phonies", and "medal cheats".

Lying about military service or wearing a uniform or medals that were not earned is criminalized in some circumstances, especially if done with the goal of obtaining money or any other kind of tangible benefit, though laws vary by country.

Military imposters engage in a broad range of deceptive behaviors, all intended to achieve recognition from others. An imposter may make verbal statements, written claims, or create deceptive impressions through actions, such as wearing a uniform, rank insignia, unit symbols, medals, or patches. Generally imposters fall into two broad categories: civilians who have never been in any branch of the military, and real veterans who make false claims about their experiences or accomplishments. Imposters in the latter category may claim any of the following:

While many individuals outright fabricate some or all of their military service history, others employ equivocation tactics or similarly misleading language that avoids making a technically false statement, but still gives a deceptive impression. A common example is stating one was in a branch of the military during a specific war. In many contexts, such a statement implies that the speaker was deployed to a combat zone, even if in reality never left their home country. A similar misleading statement is boasting about being a member of a branch or unit that is well known for its combat prowess and heroic achievements, when the speaker was purely in a logistical role without any combat experience. Imposters also frequently claim to be part of "classified" operations as an excuse for why they cannot provide details or, when confronted, why there is no record of their actions or service.

  • Being the recipient of awards that were not earned
  • Having a longer service duration
  • Having a more favorable discharge
  • Holding a higher rank than one actually held
  • Having served with a different branch of the military
  • Having served with a different unit that is more famous
  • Being a different role or Military Occupational Specialty
  • Involvement in a war or specific engagement one was not present for
  • Performing a brave or valorous act that never happened
  • Participation in "special" or "secret" operations
  • Being a prisoner of war (POW).
  • Mitchell Paige, Medal of Honor recipient who later tracked imposters
  • Don Shipley, retired Navy SEAL who exposes fraudulent claims of military service.
  • The Army Rumour Service aka ARRSE, a British site run by ex service members, who among other things seek out and identify "Walts".
  • Swiftboating, slang for an unfair or untrue political attack, which sometimes takes the form of falsely accusing a candidate of dishonesty about military service.


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