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Stolen valor: Fake soldiers pretend to be war heroes for popularity and profit

In July 2013, Jonathan Wade Short of Hardin County, Kentucky, admitted in U.S. District Court to impersonating a United States soldier.
/ Source: TODAY

In July 2013, Jonathan Wade Short of Hardin County, Kentucky, admitted in U.S. District Court to impersonating a United States soldier for most of the preceding year, even though he had no record of military service.

According to the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Kentucky, Short also admitted that he told a woman he'd met online that he was a highly decorated soldier who'd been on multiple deployments and earrned high military honors, including the Purple Heart; that the first time he'd met the woman in person, he'd worn a complete Army combat uniform with a sergeant's rank, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a Parachutist Badge, a combat patch and a Ranger tab; and that as they dated, he'd repeatedly taken advantage of benefits and discounts to which only soldiers and veterans are entitled.

In fact, according to federal prosecutors, Short had at least seven Army dress uniforms that he wore in public and online to support his impersonation of a decorated combat veteran. He also asked the women he dated for money.

"He said he was a sergeant and a Ranger and was deployed multiple times and injured," said Ashley Vanover, who dated Short after meeting him online. "He would talk about shrapnel in his body."

Short also persuaded Vanover to give him money for a sick child that never existed. When she found out, "I was hurt, disgusted, mad," Vanover said. "I couldn't believe someone could lie about that."

Short was finally arrested while walking around the Fort Knox Army post wearing a uniform. He was convicted and spent a year in prison. But there are plenty more like him nationwide: alleged fake soldiers parading around in uniforms and medals they never earned the right to wear.

"They never earned that right," said Don Shipley, a retired Navy SEAL who now exposes fraudulent claims of military service online. "It's terribly dishonorable."

Soldiers like Ryan Berk, a real former infantryman who received a genuine Purple Heart, have followed Shipley's lead, confronting impostors in public. Thanks to the Stolen Valor Act, it is now a federal crime to pose as a soldier or claim to have earned medals like the Purple Heart and Silver Star for financial gain.

Even so, it's easy to get authentic military uniforms and decorations online. TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen ordered a uniform custom-made on the Internet and it was shipped to him in days, complete with his name embossed. The Rossen Reports team also bought military medals online, including a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

When the Rossen team attempted to interview Jonathan Wade Short about his activities, Short struck their camera, breaking a lens, and threatened a Rossen Reports producer, saying, "You better call the cops. There's going to be a murder here." In fact, Short called the police on the Rossen team, only to wind up arrested himself for harassment.

Short did tell Rossen Reports that he had written a letter of apology to the soldiers at Fort Knox, but said he had no apology whatsoever for the young woman he took advantage of.

To suggest a topic for an upcoming edition of Rossen Reports, email us.