View Full Version : 2-star charade

08-10-05, 10:09 PM
2-star charade <br />
<br />
By John Hoellwarth <br />
Times staff writer <br />
<br />
SHREVEPORT, La. - William J. Lawson's hands shook as he held the reproduction of a 60-year-old military service record. <br />
<br />
He had just been...

08-10-05, 10:10 PM
Lawson could face up to six months in jail and have to pay a fine, said Thomas A. Cottone Jr., a special agent with the FBI based in West Paterson, N.J., who investigates medals frauds - primarily...

08-10-05, 10:10 PM
Photograph told a conflicting story - Ribbon rack, badges didn't add up

At first glance, William J. Lawson's military appearance in the photograph seemed legit.

The photo was taken June 22 by Shane Bevel, a photographer at The Shreveport (La.) Times who was covering a community event. Shortly after, the photo was distributed by the Associated Press, where it came to the attention of Marine Corps Times.

Lawson's stack of ribbons were in the right order. From his Silver Star, through his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and down to his Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, everything appeared to be on the up and up.

But his marksmanship qualification badges didn't stand up to scrutiny and the photo became suspicious.

Most current or former Marines are aware that the rifle is the primary weapon for Marines below the rank of captain. Majors and up, including major generals, would surely have gotten around to a pistol qualification at some point.

Yet Lawson had only an expert rifle qualification badge, centered below his ribbons.

Upon further inspection, more problems became apparent. Why was he wearing a pinky ring? Why did he have his cover on indoors? Why, after all his years of alleged service, did he have only one ribbon adorned with stars indicating multiple awards?

He had a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, yet only one Combat Action Ribbon.

An Internet search returned no evidence of his status as a major general. A search of the Marine Corps' official Web site, www.usmc.mil, which includes biographies of all active, retired and deceased general officers, turned up no mention of Lawson.

Marine Corps Headquarters said it never heard of him and directed inquiries to its History and Museums Division. Again, the search came up empty.

The only evidence of his status was in Shreveport's phone book, where he was listed under Lawson as "William J Maj Gen."

Initially contacted by telephone in June, Lawson told Marine Corps Times he had a bio but said, "I don't want to release it."

According to FBI Special Agent Thomas A. Cottone Jr., who specializes in busting medal fakers and phony service members, this is a common excuse.

When questioned about his Silver Star, Lawson said he earned it on Iwo Jima, an assertion that was easily proven wrong by Marine Corps' awards branch records that show no one named Lawson was awarded the Silver Star for actions there.

With help from B.G. "Jug" Burkett, who has exposed numerous phonies over the years and whose book "Stolen Valor" recently became the namesake of House legislation aimed at imposing stiffer penalties on awards fakers, Marine Corps Times was able to obtain Lawson's service number. As Burkett puts it, "90 percent of the time these guys have at least served in some capacity."

Lawson's record, obtained from the National Archives' National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, made clear that he had never been hand-picked by the president or confirmed by Congress. His 19-month stint in the Corps never afforded him the opportunity to rate two stripes, let alone two stars.

The document the personnel center produced was the smoking gun that proved Lawson was in the Corps but didn't rate the rank or awards he was sporting.