June 6, 2012 at 4:13 PM ET
The controversy surrounding "America's Got Talent" contestant Timothy Michael Poe's military service record only continues to grow.
Poe appeared on Monday night's show, singing a Garth Brooks song and earning standing ovations for his performance and for his emotional story about being injured by a grenade in Afghanistan. But later, the Minnesota National Guard issued a statement saying that Poe's military records do not show the injury.
On Tuesday, Poe was interviewed by C.J. Grisham on the military-focused You Served podcast, and admitted that he once claimed medals he didn't earn, and that his story as given on the NBC show may not have been accurate.
Poe told Grisham that he attended a golf tournament put on by the Defenders of Freedom. At the event, a poster, using information provided by Poe himself, claimed that Poe was awarded a Purple Heart, which is given for those wounded while serving, and a Bronze Star, which is awarded for bravery or acts of merit. The blog This Ain't Hell displays a blown-up photograph of that poster, which also shows other medals, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
But on the You Served podcast, Poe admitted he was never awarded those medals. "It was just something stupid," he told Grisham. Poe said he was not cut by shrapnel or otherwise visibly wounded by the grenade, and noted that "they don't want to give Purple Hearts out for TBI (traumatic brain injury)."
As to why he claimed the Purple Heart and Bronze Star at the tournament, he said, "Everyone there had (medals and honors)," and added "It was just one of those things where you feel out of place and you want to feel like you were part of something."
Defenders of Freedom founder Donna Cranston has spoken out about Poe on the group's Facebook page. "Since being alerted about Tim Poe last week, we have been unable to substantiate his claims," Cranston wrote. "We have reached out to him, but have been disappointed that he has been unwilling to talk with us. As a result, in the best interest of Defenders of Freedom, we have chosen to disassociate with him."
And in response to a comment on that post, Cranston wrote, "He did serve and was injured in training. I stand behind our decision to help him last year. .... What I can't stand behind now is someone who has fabricated a story, personally misrepresented his service to me, and won't talk with me about it."
Cranston's reference to Poe being injured in training rather than combat backs up what his ex-wife, Kelly Ballard, herself a military veteran, told AGTNews and the New York Post, saying Poe's injuries came during training exercises in Mississippi, not overseas. An anonymous source tells This Ain't Hell a slightly different story, saying Poe was injured in Afghanistan, but by falling off a truck, not in an attack.
On "America's Got Talent," Poe said he "got hit" by a grenade and that it "broke my back and gave me a brain injury." On the You Served podcast, he said he had broken his back previously and was told later that he had rebroken it, but did not know if it was related to the grenade. "I don't know for sure if my back was broken at that exact time," he said, saying he didn't even realize his back had been reinjured until told by doctors treating him in Germany.
When asked by Grisham if he said anything inaccurate on "America's Got Talent," he answered, "Sure," and compared it to exaggerating to one's children to make their dad seem cool. "It was a show," he said. "It wasn't out there to make anyone feel bad."
NBC would not comment on whether Poe will remain on the show.
Regarding the Minnesota National Guard's statement, Poe said "They had made a statement without having all the facts," and said he had left a message with the Guard spokesman about correcting his records.
Poe also said he was "very, very upset" by some of the reports about his record, which included negative comments from some of his fellow military.
"I don't think my unit was told the real reason I was sent away," he said. "They don't send you out of Afghanistan for an ear infection." He said that after the blast, he would forget things, couldn't walk straight, and "would close my eyes and I would fall over."
According to AGTNews.com, Joshua Hansen, Poe's squad leader in Afghanistan, posted on his Facebook page that Poe's story is "all a giant lie. He has fooled alot of people and i dont blame them for (believing) him after all who would make something like this up?" Hansen also wrote that Poe was taken out of Afghanistan due to a non-combat "injury," putting "injury" in quotes.
Poe confirmed that Hansen was his squad leader, and said "(The grenade attack) may not have happened exactly how I explained because I don't remember a whole bunch." When asked if he could give names of fellow vets who might support his story, he said "I really wish I could remember them and I really wish they would come out."
Poe said he didn't really get into singing until a therapist at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio suggested singing in the shower. But his ex-wife tells the New York Post that he was the lead singer in a band called Crawlspace years ago.
Poe also said he didn't audition for "America's Got Talent" in hopes of personal gain, but to show fellow veterans "you can do whatever you want as long as you push yourself and you try."
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