Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stolen Valor (Hampton Roads Edition)

Another (apparent) military phony has been uncovered, this one in the Tidewater Area of Virginia.

For years, George Gsell has identified himself as a recipient of the Air Force Cross, the service's second-highest decoration. Equivalent to the Navy Cross and the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force decoration is rarely awarded; only 192 have been earned by service members since its inception in 1964, and there have been only four multiple recipients:

-- Colonel James Kasler, a Korean War fighter ace who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent more than six years as a POW.

-- Brigadier General Robison "Robbie" Risner, who won the medal twice, for his gallantry in air combat over Vietnam, and later, for his leadership as a senior POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

-- Colonel Leland Kennedy, a helicopter pilot who was also a two-time recipient of the Air Force Cross, for his actions on daring rescue missions flown only two weeks apart.

-- Colonel John Dramesi, one of the few American captives in North Vietnam who never broke under torture. One of his fellow POWs, John McCain, described Dramesi as "one of the toughest men I've ever met."

Readers will note that George Gsell's name is conspiciously absent from that list. Still, he had an explanation for that when confronted by Dan Tjordman, a reporter from WTKR-TV in Norfolk. While declining requests for an on-camera interview, he did agree to answer a few questions over the phone:

He said he was awarded the Air Force Cross with two oak leaf clusters and the distinguished Flying Cross.

To earn those awards, Gsell says he fought special missions in Vietnam, but could not explain.

When asked about a citation, Gsell said, "I've tried to get one but I have been unable to get one, you know. I've just been unable to get it. I've been trying to get a copy."

Gsell never got a copy because no copy exists. Citations and orders for lower-level commendation medals were found in his file, but none were for the Air Force Cross or distinguished Flying Cross - which Gsell also claimed.

Before Gsell hung up the phone moments later, he insisted that NewsChannel 3 take a look at his DD-214, a military discharge form.

It did list multiple Air Force Crosses and distinguished Flying Crosses.NewsChannel 3 found that the form was updated for the period of 1975 to 1977.The document had to be fake - Vietnam was already over and Gsell had not been overseas since 1969.

Ironically, George Gsell is an Air Force veteran who served honorably in Vietnam. Documents obtained by WTRK show he received the Air Force Commendation Medal and other lesser awards during his service. But there is no evidence that Gsell was ever on flying status or served as an aircrew member. That's a rather obvious tipoff, since the Air Force Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross are usually awarded to pilots and other aircrew members. According to Gsell's personnel record, he served as an air conditioning repairman during his tour in Vietnam.

Gsell's fraud was first discovered by other local veterans, who wondered why his name was missing from various lists of Air Force Cross recipients. They were also suspicious of the altered DD-214, which Gsell used to support his claim.

Falsely claiming military decorations and awards is a federal crime, punishable under the Stolen Valor Act. The local U.S. attorney has not said if Gsell will be prosecuted for his apparent fraud. For now, he's just the latest in a long line of charlatans whose phony claims of valor finally caught up with them.


Ed Rasimus said...

As an aside, I'll note that I had the privilege of being part of the initial rescue effort on both of Leland Kennedy's AF Cross missions. He was a Jolly Green pilot. The first was a shoot down of an F-4 in Laos. The lead Jolly was damaged during pickup of the back-seater and Kennedy went in and got the Jolly crew and backseater, then picked up the front seater before leaving.

The second was an F-4 bailout between the Black and Red Rivers in North Vietnam. During pickup of the backseater the gunfire was so intense that the hoist was shot off the side of his Jolly during the extraction of the pilot and PJ rescueman.

I was overhead in an F-105D.

No one has ever received three AF Crosses--basic plus two OLC. These poseurs should be sent away for a long time, but they never are.

Unknown said...

Ed: I can only second your notion that punishments aren't severe enough for these frauds. The guy in VA simply altered his DD-214 to include multiple AF Crosses and Distinguished Flying Crosses, then bought the medals from a local supplier (Vanguard, the largest producer of decorations for the U.S. military is headquartered in Norfolk and they have a retail showroom that's open to the public. That's how easy it is for a phony get a decoration he never earned.

All of the men who won the AF Cross on multiple occasions are remarkable individuals, heroes in the truest sense of that word. You can never marginalize the exploits of a man like Leland Kennedy or Robbie Risner, but the value of the rewards they received is cheapend by military phonies like George Gsell.

And sadly, there are many more just like him. In a society where most have no connection to the military (and no sense of what a Distinguished Flying Cross or AF Cross really means), it's easy for the frauds to perpetuate their crimes.

Incidentally, the FBI has officially launched an investigation into the Gsell case.

Unknown said...

I have been following this story since my family that lives in the area told me about it and they told me that the FBI and AG have cleared him of any wrong.

Unknown said...

S--Hate to rain on your parade, but there's nothing--repeat, nothing--to indicate that Mr. Gsell has been exonerated. Indeed, exoneration would require proof that Gsell actually received the Air Force Cross, and no such proof exists.

If you can provide verifiable proof, I will be happy to publish it--specifically, a copy of Gsell's DD-214 or an copy of the original award citation.