Yesterday, most of us were introduced to Craig Pusley. He’s the Marine veteran who made national news after standing guard in front of Hughson Elementary School in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday in a desert camouflage uniform to help children feel safe following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The tale got ugly when questions were raised about the military service he was described to have in media coverage. Numerous stories said he left the Corps as a sergeant after pulling two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
I interviewed Pusley yesterday afternoon. He said he didn’t know how the story got twisted, even blaming Nan Austin, a reporter with The Modesto Bee who interviewed him on site.
“There’s a lot of fabrication to this story that didn’t come out of my mouth,” Pusley said on the phone yesterday. “All I know is that I talked to a Modesto Bee lady, and everything went crazy.”
Crazy thing, though. When you say something like that, people pay attention. And so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that another journalist, Mick Rubalcava of the independent site ModestoNews.org, has video of Pusley talking about his service. Skip to the second half of it for the meat and potatoes:
In the video, he says he’s a sergeant. He says he served in Afghanistan. And he says he was wounded there, leading to him getting out of the Corps. There’s also some talk about not all Marines being “killing machines,” but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.
Pusley also says in the video that he’s still in the Marine Corps Reserve with “123 Weapons,” which would more formally be known as Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines. That unit did indeed deploy to Afghanistan last year.
Pusley apologized yesterday during my interview with him, but refused to admit he lied about his service. It was all a miscommunication, he said.
Except now he’s on video. Lying. There went that.
Pusley also told me he was separated from the Corps in 2008 after serving less than a year. Marine officials found he went on an unauthorized absence, he said.
I checked that story out with Marine officials, too. Turns out, that one’s true.
I’ve covered the military for five years at Marine Corps Times, and we come across people in Pusley’s predicament frequently.
The one that took the cake for me was Donald Laisure, whom I wrote about in 2009. He claimed to be a retired four-star general who 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.
In reality, he served less than a year on active duty before leaving the service as a private. California records also show he was once married to convicted murderer Susan Atkins, the ex-wife of serial killer Charles Manson. In an interview, Laisure acknowledged that was true.
People will continue to lie about their military service, whether it’s for financial gain or simply for the gratitude that other veterans earned.
You know what, though? Many of them will be caught. They’ll get embarrassed publicly, and be forced to reconsider what they did.
Just like Pusley.