Ex-Marine Wrongly Accuses A Woman Of 'Stolen Valor' After Quizzing Her About Her Service—'Was I In The Wrong?'

Stolen valor is a serious accusation and one some feel he'd have never leveled at another man.

Man looking suspiciously at female veteran Gustavo Frazao, Volurol / Shutterstock 

Stolen valor, the military term for making false claims about military service, is a serious issue for those who've served in the armed forces. The sacrifices they make sometimes include their literal lives, after all. And with cases of stolen valor seeing a spike in recent years, 

But one man on Reddit took his concern about the shockingly common practice of stolen valor so far that he ended up embarrassing himself. And, as he detailed in a post to the "r/AmITheA--hole" subReddit, a forum for people to ask for input on whether they were wrong in a conflict, it also cost him a friendship with a classmate.


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A former military member falsely accused his grad school classmate of stolen valor.

The Redditor, who served as a Captain in the Marine Corps, is now a student in an MBA program, and when he opened up about his record of military service in class, he found an instant friend in a fellow classmate, J. "That's so cool," J exclaimed when he revealed his service, "I was a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy!" But things quickly took a turn.

The former Marine became suspicious when his female classmate wouldn't discuss her military service.

The Marine writes that he had a hard time believing his classmate's claims because "J is very demure, and she doesn't really have the bravado that is required in the military environment." Still, he "humored her, and began asking about the details of her military experience - where she deployed, what courses she went through, what ship she served on, etc etc."


But J wasn't at all forthcoming. "Suddenly J got all tight-lipped," he writes, and seemed incapable of saying "anything specific about military life." When he pressed her, he says "she kept making excuses along the lines of 'it just wasn't a good period of my life' and 'I'd rather not talk about it.'"

Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among veterans, and according to the Veterans Administration female military members suffer from it more often than male veterans. Military sexual assault, or MST, is even more common—according to the advocacy organization Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, a startling 1 in 3 female military members experiences MST while serving.



So it is, sadly, incredibly plausible that J had very valid reasons for clamming up when asked about her time in the armed forces and not wanting to talk about it. But that did not dissuade the Redditor's suspicions.


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Stolen valor is surprisingly common—and it's also a federal crime.

According to investigators at the National Archives, claims of stolen valor are on the rise after spiking in 2020 during the onset of the pandemic. Investigators believe the spike was from people attempting to obtain benefits or loans available to military members during the COVID-19 crisis, often via identity theft.

The Stolen Valor Act, federal legislation first passed in 2005 and revised in 2013, criminalized the practice in cases where the person faking military service has been found to be doing so for financial gain, and has resulted in several cases of people going to prison for doing so, as seen in the video below.

There are also myriad non-criminal versions of stolen valor the National Archives calls "morally reprehensible," including the simple act of wearing military clothing if you're not actively part of the military. (So you might consider leaving those thrift-store military jackets at home.)


Common though the practice may be, however, the case the Reddit Marine thought he'd identified turned out not to be one of them.

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The former Marine accused his classmate of faking her military service, & was quickly proven wrong.

"Eventually I felt like I had done enough snooping around," he writes, "and I bluntly told her that she was bullsh-tting, and that I'd rather not work with a phony."

He then began warning other classmates about J's stolen valor and reported her to his friend at their school's veterans organization, M. "I told M to be wary of anything J says," he writes—a move that quickly came back to bite him. 


"M responded by telling me that J did serve, he's seen her paperwork and ID and everything, and that in fact, one of her MBA recommendation letters was written by a retired rear admiral (O-8) who held J in high regard," he writes, adding, "whoops."

He tried to "make up for accusing [J] of being a liar" by "act[ing] chummy towards her" the next time they were in class together, but she was understandably not interested. "She laughed in my face and told me to 'pound sand, poolee,'" he writes, adding, "And for those of you who don't know [military slang], yes, she was being derisive here."

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People on Reddit were firmly on J's side, and many accused the former Marine of sexism.

Many felt the former Marine seemed obsessed with his own military service. "[You're the a--hole] and I'm guessing being a veteran is 90% of your personality," one Redditor wrote. Others pointed out his apology—or non-apology—as evidence that he was in the wrong. "Even his attempt at an apology was an a--hole one," a user wrote. "Who goes around and acts chummy?"

But many others saw something far more insidious in his accusation. "[T]his is 100% because she’s a woman," one user commented. And another quickly used the Marine's own words against him to prove it. "Remember she doesn’t have the 'bravado' (toxic masculinity) to serve," the person wrote

Though another pointed out that in the end, the Marine had obviously underestimated J's lack of "bravado." As they put it, "She had the bravado to laugh at him and tell him to pound sand. Guess OP was wrong." Some lessons have to be learned the hard way, as they say.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.