27 October 2011


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 28 October 2011

"To fake is to stand guard over emptiness." Arthur Herzog

Elmyr de Hory was the greatest art forger of the 20th century. He was a fake. And his fakes, because he was skilled and had done his homework and knew what he was doing, fooled even the experts. And once fooled, those experts weren't so quick to admit they'd been fooled. Why? Expert reputations and big bucks were at stake. And so de Hory's success continued; at least for a while. Clifford Irving told de Hory's story in 'Fake!The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time.' If you're interested in history and art and intrigue and incredible scams it's worth reading.

Fakes are not unique to the art world. They pop up in all walks of life--name the profession and undoubtedly there's been a remarkably successful fake, or two. Actors, by trade, are fakes. On the hilarious TV sitcom Seinfeld, George Costanza, the stumpy, pudgy, bald, lovable loser, posed as a marine biologist and as an architect. His aim? To impress--himself. And women. And speaking of women, George and Kramer and Jerry's friend, Elaine, claimed to fake, fake, fake, and fake--to Jerry's disbelief and great disappointment.

Who knows whom and what to believe anymore. But one thing's for certain, if you intend to fool a Marine, about being a Marine, you'd best have done your homework.

A few weeks ago, while sitting in a physician's waiting room, a gentleman about 15 years my senior struck up a conversation. He opened the dialogue by showing me a photograph (professional athletes on a field prior to the start of a game that appeared to be disrespectful to our national colors) in a magazine that angered him. He emphatically said he was going to write the editor to express his displeasure. And then he added, "My Marine buddies would never tolerate this."

"Marine buddies" got my attention. So I leaned over and asked if he was a Marine. He nodded and said yes. I then told him I was a Marine. We chatted a few moments and I asked the inevitable, "What was your MOS? (pronounced: "Em Oh Ess"  for Military Occupational Specialty--the four digit designator a Marine can rattle off faster than their mother's birthday).

The momentary expression on his face told me he had no clue what the acronym 'MOS' meant. Then he proceeded to tell me he worked on the flightline. So I pressed by commenting there are quite a few jobs on the flightline and asked what he did. At that point, he surely knew I knew he was not a Marine but on he rambled about doing such and such with planes, that he was a sergeant, and that he'd once grounded a lieutenant for something or other and enjoyed the "full bird's" (slang for colonel) support. Though his story was so much nonsense, I listened; politely. And then excused myself to resume reading the book on my iPad. Yep, he knew I knew--he was a fake.

His bad luck was running into a Marine. How foolish he must have felt sitting there for the next 20 minutes or so. He probably got over it. And will carry on with his lie.

A week later my brother, a Marine (and Sailor), told me a story about a guy visiting his worksite who was passing himself off as a retired Marine gunnery sergeant. The guy talked some of the talk and wore a scarlet with gold lettering (U. S. Marines) security badge strap around his neck. As Marines tend to migrate toward each other, my brother introduced himself as a Marine, and then asked the question, "What was your MOS?" The response was some nonsense about working in the "wing QC shop." Which, by the way, is not an MOS. My brother mentioned he'd been in the wing, flew jets, and asked again about his MOS. Clueless. He was not a Marine. 

Last Sunday, while visiting a retired Marine friend and his wife, in the small cowboy town of Bandera (Population 957), Texas, I was introduced to the wife of a retired Marine. The encounter went something like this: My friend and I was sitting at a table in the small general purpose store owned by his friend (and his wife). The Marine was not around but his wife was working behind the counter. During a momentary lull at the register she wandered over to join us and say hello. My friend said, "Andy this is 'Joan' (name changed). Her husband was CO (commanding officer) of 10th Marines before he retired (10th Marines is an artillery regiment so her husband was an 0802--pronounced: 'oh eight oh two' [artillery officer]). 'Joan,' meet Andy Weddington--he's a retired Marine, too." She offered a friendly welcome, handshake, and then asked, "What was your MOS?" Thinking about the previous couple of incidents, I laughed and answered "0302"  (infantry officer). And then made some comment about it being among the first questions asked between Marines. And she said something along the line of, 'yep and even the wives.' And we laughed some more.

It only takes a moment for a Marine (or Marine spouse) to confirm someone's a Marine. And MOS is only one of a handful of queries to expose a fake. Why anyone believes they can fool a Marine (or spouse) is bewildering. Crazy. Sick.

Fakes. Some go beyond talk. The bolder wear uniforms and decorations. A couple of examples come to mind. The lack of any devices (i.e. clusters, stars, Vs) on row after row of ribbons worn by a masquerading brigadier general caught the attention of some real Marines. A few questions and his gig was soon up. Another, posing as a general officer, sported a combat 'V' on a Navy Cross. A stupid blunder considering the Navy Cross (2nd only to the Medal of Honor) is awarded for combat heroism (there is no V). Turns out neither man had ever served; in any branch. Still others have claimed being awarded the Medal of Honor. Imagine. 

Another popular ruse by military fakes is citing service in "special forces" or "black ops" or being a "SEAL." And then offer lame apology that their service was classified and they're, "not being able to talk about it." I've run into these, too, on occasion, and wondered if these folks realize the true operators would not have mentioned anything. Probably not. Their behavior may seem harmless, less egregious than wearing uniforms and decorations, but hardly so when considering the sacrficies endured by those who've served.

And then there's the cohort, hardly worth discussing, who served, typically honorably, but for some peculiar reason embellish their service as to rank, theatres served, and decorations earned. Perhaps some in congress that have been outed for such nonsense (e.g. Vietnam service) can explain beyond pathetic offer of innocent misspeaks.

The 'Stolen Valor Act' was enacted to punish the fakes--the clowns. And deter others. But some nutty court decided the despicable conduct fell under the purview of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is all well and good. But when it comes to service to country--fakes, of any ilk, cross the line. Accountability is only right.

So, in closing, a plea (though surely a waste of words) on behalf of all who've honorably served America...

Fakes, will you please stick to being wine tasters and politicians. Better yet, art forgers, actors, marine biologists, architects, and spirited insatiable bedfellows. Or idiot judges. And, when looking for an audience, find an intersection to guard, to occupy. Say along Wall Street--where there's always ample scat and room for a little more bull.

Thank you.

Good grief.

Post Script

Elmyr de Hory faked Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani, Vlaminck, Derain, Dufy, and others. Best I can recall, he didn't fake military service.

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