Fake Vietnam vets proliferate


Scripps Howard News Service

August 22, 2001

— Joe Mauk wears the green beret of the Army’s elite Special Forces and a uniform bedecked with ribbons and medals for bravery. He talks about his time in Vietnam, his 11 purple hearts for wounds, his Silver and Bronze stars for valor, and his captivity as a prisoner of war for nearly 2 1/2 years.

His stories have brought tears to the eyes of adults at his many speaking engagements. And when the Vietnam Memorial “Traveling Wall” came to the Denver area July 13-15, “Master Sgt.” Mauk was invited as the keynote speaker.

There’s only one problem.

According to Army records, Mauk was never a prisoner of war, never in Vietnam, never a member of the Special Forces, never wounded in battle, and never a master sergeant.

Mauk’s soldier persona began to unravel July 16, after the Rocky Mountain News published a photo and article on his appearance at the Traveling Wall.

Outraged Vietnam veterans and ex-prisoners of war erupted with e-mails and phone calls saying that Mauk is not what he claimed to be. They said impostors dishonor the 58,226 who died in Vietnam, the 153,363 who were wounded, and the 661 real military prisoners of war.

Mauk was confronted Monday with Army and Defense Department records in a meeting with the News and retired Navy Capt. Mike McGrath, an ex-captive who heads the national Vietnam prisoner-of-war organization NAM-POWS.

Mauk staunchly maintained that he served in Special Forces, was injured 11 times and was a prisoner of war for two years, four months and nine days, but could provide no records to confirm any of his claims.

“I’m in the process of getting documentation sent to me at the present time, from a colonel with (military) intelligence,” Mauk said.

Mauk’s stance brought an angry rebuke from McGrath, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Navy fighter pilot who spent five years and eight months in a North Vietnamese POW camp.

“Mr. Mauk, I’d like to say one word. You’re not worthy of laying flowers on the graves of my roommates and my squadron mates and the people who died beside me in Hanoi,” McGrath said. “You’re not worthy of even talking to one of those graves.”

McGrath had known of Mauk long before their meeting Monday.

“He’s just a fraud,” McGrath said. “He’s been listed as a fraud for five or six years. I carry 668 of these frauds on our list now. What they think is that 28 years has gone by and people won’t know the difference, so they can just do anything they want.”

(Contact Dick Foster of the Rocky Mountain News.)