ELKO – A U.S. Army veteran who started a local POW/MIA group 15 years ago is at war again, this time with “stolen valor” groups claiming he falsified his credentials.
Two online valor forums are posting allegations against Les Brown, commander of the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association. The blogs put out by valorguardians.com and militaryphony.com claim Brown does not hold status as a master sergeant, was discharged rather than retired from service, and that he falsely wears the Combat Infantry Badge and Special Forces Insignia on his POW/MIA vest.
They also claim that there is no documentation to support Brown’s Desert Storm veteran status.
“Two days after I got home from Washington, D.C., I got a phone call from my police chief that an individual charged me with plagiarism and abuse of powers due to an article that was written in the Elko Daily Free Press,” Brown said at a meeting held Wednesday evening at Elko City Hall.
He was referring to a June 15 “Local Inspirations” feature that described his efforts to bring back forgotten soldiers and his community service involvement.
Brown works for the City of Carlin. Accusers began emailing Brown’s supervisor, the Elko Daily Free Press and several other people on July 19 claiming that Brown is guilty of “stolen valor.”
“This guy … has created a bunch of problems,” Brown said, laying down military credentials that he said refuted the claims. “He also says I did not serve in Desert Storm. Here is the DD214 right here that says I did and he also says that I don’t have a retired I.D. card and I didn’t retire as a master sergeant.”
“Les Brown committed a felony,” said the administrator at militaryphony.com in an email that was sent to the Elko Daily Free Press. “I am talking about donations that Brown has solicited while misrepresenting himself. Wearing an unearned Combat Infantryman Badge is a felony violation of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 — especially if it was leveraged to raise money.”
The local POW*MIA association does host fundraisers, but both Assemblyman John Ellison and former county commissioner Charlie Meyers, who work frequently with Brown, attested to the fact that money never transfers through his hands.
“These hack websites are going after our vests,” Brown said. “They went after ‘River Rat’ in May for stuff that he was wearing on his vest. They talk about things we wear on our vests that we didn’t earn. Well, we all wear something on our vests that we didn’t earn.”
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Brown pointed to a vest his granddaughter wore that has Marine Corps stripes on it to represent a program the group started for children.
Members of the association also often wear tie tacks and other insignia given to them by the families of recovered veterans.
The administrator at militaryphony.com claimed in an email that Brown falsely represents himself by wearing these types of insignia shown on his vest in the photo accompanying the article.
“Look at every police officer in this nation,” said Ellison. “When they put on their colors they have all these badges from all these different departments. It doesn’t mean that they served in these departments, it just means that they are showing honor to them. I have seen a POW*MIA vest here recently that had Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard on the back. They are showing respect to the patch and the military.”
“I understand there are people out there that hate me,” Brown said, “but I am not too concerned about that, but when it starts affecting my job, my business and this association, that’s when I take offense.”
According to Brown and James Robert Lee Foster, chaplain and member of the association, anyone can retrieve “partial records” on any veteran through the Freedom of Information Act. The forms, however, always have redacted information, thus are not complete.
Myers took the podium and said that stealing military valor is a very serious matter.
“When you accuse somebody of that you should have as much factual documentation as possible,” he said. “I think it is very clear when you look at all of the information that was put on the website that it was incomplete.”
“I think that the POW*MIA association should go on their website and make a simple rebuttal,” Myers said. “I would also make sure you give your [association’s] lawyer all of this information. Don’t just let this lie.”
When the Elko Daily Free Press contacted militaryphonies.com, Dave Hardin of South Carolina said he was the owner and administrator of the site and the one responsible for emails that were sent about Brown.
Brown said the complaints originated from a local veteran employed in the mining industry.