Every Sunday my local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City, prints the names of servicemen and women who died the previous week in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every Sunday, I make myself read the names. It’s the least I can do to honor their sacrifice. Today, Veterans Day, the newspaper printed a story about a local young man, a private, killed in Baghdad six months ago. I’m afraid I couldn’t read the story—it was too upsetting.
Veterans Day was always important to my ex-husband, James Montgomery. He wanted to show his patriotism and commemorate the comrades he lost in Vietnam as a member of the Australian military. In fact, when we met, 25 years after Vietnam, Montgomery claimed he was still affiliated with Special Forces. Military service was an important part of his persona.
This is an important part my upcoming book, Cracked Open, about life with a sociopath. An excerpt follows.
Veterans Day, 1996
In November 1996, James was invited to speak to schoolchildren about the importance of Veterans Day. A few days before the holiday, he went to a sixth-grade classroom in nearby Somers Point, New Jersey. With him were Joe Nickles, who had been an Army drill sergeant, and Bill Ross, who was a local mayor and had served in World War II. The three men sat on kid-sized chairs in the front of the room, talking about life in the military and answering questions from students. A teacher in the back of the classroom operated a video camera, transmitting the presentation to the rest of the school via closed circuit TV.
Each of the men spoke of their experiences in a way the children could understand. They talked about the training and the commitment. They explained what kept them going under fire—concern for their buddies.
A boy asked James a question: “Did you lose any friends in Vietnam?”
James answered slowly. “Yes,” he said, stretching out the word, “and I felt very sad when it happened. That’s why Veterans Day is so important. It’s a time to remember all those served their country, especially those who gave their lives.”
Standing in the back of the room, I was proud of everything James did to protect the rest of us.
When Veterans Day actually arrived on Monday, November 11, 1996, James planned to attend a ceremony in Mays Landing, New Jersey. The previous year, James was the keynote speaker. The Press of Atlantic City reported that he “recounted service-to-the-nation stories about comedienne Martha Raye and retired Major Dick Meadows, who led the raid on Son Tay to rescue POWs.” The local Mays Landing Record Journal ran a photo of him wearing his Special Forces beret and camouflage jacket in the rain.
I was supposed to meet him at the ceremony. But as I was ready to leave, I discovered that James had taken his car keys—and mine as well. After a moment of dismay, I was relieved—work deadlines were looming, and I really didn’t have time to drive out to Mays Landing, stand at a ceremony, and drive back. But my efficient and logical thinking didn’t go over well with my husband.
“Why didn’t you turn up?” he demanded when he arrived home.
“I was going to,” I said. “You took my car keys.”
“You could have come if you wanted to. You could have called a taxi,” he retorted, without acknowledging his own mistake.
I was astounded. “Are you kidding? That would cost a fortune!” I said. “And I’ve got a lot of work. I was better off staying home and getting it done.”
“It appears that what is important to your husband is not important to you,” he said. “Gale understood how important this is. She used to iron my uniforms.”
James stomped downstairs to his office, and I was left to wonder about being compared to my husband’s deceased wife. I felt guilty—temporarily—and then I went back to work.
Never in the military
What I know now, that I did not know in 1996, was that James Montgomery, my ex-husband, was never in the military.
From what I can tell, Montgomery had been including military service in his biographical profiles and resumes since at least 1980. He sent me a copy of the “mention in dispatches” report that recounted his heroism in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest military honor. While we were married, Montgomery was active in the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. In gratitude for his contributions, the VVA gave Montgomery a plaque, which he hung on the wall.
After I left Montgomery, I began to suspect it was all a lie. I got my proof in 2005, shortly before I launched Lovefraud.com. I sent my copies of Montgomery’s military records—and they were voluminous—to an organization called Australian and New Zealand Military Impostors. The organization’s investigators—all former military men—determined that every document was fabricated.
“We hold copies of documents that indicate he has been constructing his false history over many years and we have never before run across such an obviously labour intensive project,” ANZMI wrote. “Montgomery gets the award for the wannabe who tried the hardest to perpetuate his fraud while also being the most incredibly stupid.”
For more on Montgomery’s fake military service, read the following links. If his actions weren’t so despicable, they’d actually be quite entertaining.
Forged Victoria Cross citation (Scroll down to James Montgomery)
Thousands of impostors
Unfortunately, Montgomery is not alone. As documented on the Is he military? page of Lovefraud.com, thousands of men and women exaggerate the accomplishments of their military service, or claim to have served when they never did. VeriSEAL.org has exposed more than 35,000 men who falsely claimed to be Navy SEALS. This is especially shocking because only 11,000 men actually graduated from the SEAL training program. And the POW network, which exposes false or exaggerated military claims, can’t even count how many liars are listed on its website.
Some of these people with trumped up military claims are relatively harmless. They just want to seem important when they aren’t. But many of the impostors are sociopaths. They use the mantle of respectability that goes with military service in order to con people. Or, they con the government, stealing military benefits that they don’t deserve.
Almost a year ago, on December 20, 2006, the U.S. Stolen Valor Act was signed into law. It addresses the unauthorized wearing, manufacture or selling of military decorations and medals. Some cases are being prosecuted. The United States Attorney’s Office in the western district of Washington is prosecuting eight cases in which phony veterans have scammed more than $1.4 million.
It’s a start.
Australia has laws against claming false military service. Montgomery could be subject to a fine of $3,300 and jail time of up to six months. The sentence is ridiculously light, but the law is rarely, if ever, enforced.
So by faking the respectability of military heroism, my ex-husband, James Montgomery, scammed over $1 million from myself and four other women that I know about. I did manage to get him fired from his job by exposing him in the Australian media. But so far, James Montgomery, like most military impostors, has not been prosecuted.