A Hero No More
Even in death, Texas state senator (and former U.S. attorney) Charles Ferguson Herring was hailed as a war hero.
Mr. Herring, a Democrat who died in 2004, represented the Austin area in the state senate for 17 years, from 1956-1973. He also served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas from 1951-1955. During his lifetime, Herring claimed to have won the Navy Cross, three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star as a Navy officer during World War II. Herring also stated that he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the naval reserve, before leaving the service in the mid-1950s.
As you might have guessed, Herring's claims of valor were nothing but lies. Doug Sterner, who runs a website honoring military heroes, obtained copies of the late senator's military records under the Freedom of Information Act. While Mr. Herring served as a junior officer in the Navy (and Naval Reserve) from 1943-1953, he never received any decorations for valor, and was never wounded in combat. From the El Paso Times, via Military.com:
All references to combat valor were stripped from Herring's online biography at the Texas State Cemetery [on July 1st]. The action came after its officials received military records contradicting Herring's claims of heroism during World War II.
The record shows that Herring received no awards for combat valor or for being wounded. It makes no mention of a Bronze Star for service in a war zone. And it shows he left the Navy Reserve as a lieutenant junior grade, two ranks below lieutenant commander, after 10 years of service.
According to the Times, Mr. Herring repeated his claims of heroism during an oral history interview, conducted before his death. That information was used in the senator's obituary, which until this month, was posted on the cemetery's website. Herring was interred in a section of the cemetery reserved for individuals "whose actions defined Texas history and culture." Among those buried in that portion of the cemetery are former governors, signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and famed World War II combat artist Tom Lea.
Cemetery officials were first confronted with Herring's fraud in January, when the El Paso newspaper published its initial story on his military record. But the cemetery didn't remove the false information until earlier this month, when it received copies of of Herring's military records, confirming that he never received the Purple Heart, or medals for combat valor.
Doug Sterner told the Times that the cemetery is using the wrong approach. "You need documentation to add him to the list, not documentation to remove him."
Herring's son, who lives in the Austin area, said the family wants the record to be corrected. He did not respond to an interview request after the cemetery removed his father's fraudulent obituary. Earlier this year, the younger Herring suggested there might be two sets of military records, since his father's name was originally spelled with one "r" and wasn't changed to the current form until 1963.
Fat chance. Like other military phonies, Charles Herring decided to embellish his military record for political gain. Having a Navy Cross on his "resume" certainly didn't hurt the elder Herring when he was running for the state senate, or building friendships with people like Lyndon Baines Johnson. And, he sustained the charade throughout his life; if not for the efforts of Doug Sterner (and other watchdogs), Charles Herring would still be regarded as a military hero.
In case you're wondering, Mr. Herring is not in danger of losing his current burial spot. Cemetery officials say he is entitled to that space, based on his years of service in the state legislature. But from now on, he will be remembered as a politician and a military phony, a man who wasn't satisfied with his own, honorable service and decided to "add" a few decorations for good measure.
And he almost got by with it. Almost.