With the Stolen Valor Act under scrutiny by the Supreme Court today, it seemed like a good time to bring a story out of the mothballs.
In 2009, I covered a story for Marine Corps Times that falls squarely in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category. The short of it: A man who claimed to be a retired four-star Marine Corps general had previously been married to convicted murderer Susan Atkins, ex-wife of the notorious serial killer Charlie Manson.
I know this because I went to great lengths to prove it. Donald Laisure claimed in the Marine Corps Association’s membership registry that year to have earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and an Air Medal in a 54-year career that included service in Vietnam, Panama and the Persian Gulf War. His registry profile also claimed that he went on to become the CEO and chairman of the board at Laisure Oil Refinery & Production Company in Greenville, Texas.
Based sheerly on those details, the profile already looked fishy. But a Google search also showed that a man by the same name had married Atkins in 1981. He reportedly decided to wed her after his psychic readings told him she wasn’t guilty of the horrific crimes of which she’d already been convicted. A records request to the state of California showed the wedding actually occurred.
In a phone interview, Laisure admitted that he had lied about his military service. He also acknowledged having been married to Atkins previously. They divorced a few months after their ceremony, and Atkins later said that Laisure was “not being totally honest with her,” according to a transcript of her 1985 parole board hearing.
I bring all this up to show the level of absurdity that can go with stolen valor issues. Based on experience covering stories like this, it’s clear that the individuals who lie about military service sometimes have myriad other issues.
That isn’t always the case, of course. Others have done it out of pure greed, reaping unearned benefits, gifts and admiration by claiming heroic acts at the expense of those who actually have performed them. Our newspaper chain has a full online database, the Hall of Stolen Valor, devoted solely to tracking and exposing those actions.
The Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2006 to deter these sorts of lies. As news reports like this point out, however, it’s constitutionality is considered shaky.
It’ll be interesting to see how the court rules on this issue. A prominent blog covering the Supreme Court suggests the justices may opt to narrowly define the law, rather than throw it out. Depending on how that occurs, that may be greeted as a victory by those who helped develop the law in the first place.