On Monday, State Assembly candidate Larry Wilske challenged the military honors worn by Assemblyman Randy Voepel, saying Voepel was not entitled to wear the Combat Action Ribbon.
“Stolen Valor” is a serious charge, especially in a military town like San Diego where the topic rankles veterans and current service personnel when someone claims military honors they don’t deserve. Claims like this can wreck lives and destroy careers so that’s what motivated NBC 7 Investigates to review the claims made by one Navy man against another.
Both men are Republicans and want to represent their party in an upcoming race for the 71st State Assembly district.
In a news conference held in front of the U.S.S. Midway Museum, candidate Wilske blasted the incumbent.
“It’s just bad, bad politics, he’s being a horrible human being and quite frankly, the voters deserve better,” Wilske said.
The claims center around Voepel’s service with the U-S Navy, specifically his time aboard the U.S.S. Buchanan during the Vietnam War.
NBC 7 Investigates has been reviewing these allegations after Terence Hoey, a nationally-known and respected “stolen valor” investigator, sent us a copy of his blog which outlined the charges.
“We are here to basically say that his claims are false,” Hoey said, “These claims are pure fantasy and his records do not support these claims.”
Hoey and Wilske provided what they call the most telling piece of evidence supporting their claims: a document obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration that does not list the Combat Action Ribbon as being awarded to Voepel. Hoey and Wilske tell NBC 7 Investigates this proves the Assemblyman lied about his record.
To see that document, click here.
Photos posted on Voepel's Facebook page show the Assemblyman wearing the ribbon on multiple occasions.
However, our investigation revealed the Assemblyman is entitled to wear the ribbon.
NBC 7 Investigates contacted the Pentagon’s Office of Navy Personnel and officials there sent us Randy Greg Voepel’s military service biography, which indicates he served on the USS Buchanan during the Vietnam War. The biography shows Voepel served four years on the guided-missile destroyer and received the Combat Action Ribbon along with seven other awards and decorations including Vietnam Cross for Gallantry.
To see Voepel’s military service biography, click here.
NBC 7 Investigates consulted with Doug Sterner, who has testified before Congress on issues surrounding counterfeit claims. While Sterner would not comment on this dispute, he did provide an explanation for why the information conflicts in the reports from the National Archives and the Office of Navy Personnel.
“Military records are only as good as the clerk that types them up,” Sterner said, adding that computers weren’t widely used in the Vietnam War-era.
In addition, NBC 7 Investigates reviewed an alumni website for the U.S.S. Buchanan, which includes the ship’s history in detail by crew members. The history shows crew members aboard the ship received Combat Action Ribbons for actions in April 1972 and June of 1972 when the ship provided close to shore support for a mine laying operation.
So close in fact, that the enemy arched a mortar shell through the top of the U.S.S. Buchanan, killing Navy personnel onboard. To read the ship’s deck log of that deadly mortar attack, click here.
On Monday, NBC 7 Investigates provided a copy of Voepel’s military service biography to Wilske and Hoey and asked if this information changed their opinion of Voepel.
“It’s just one issue, the Combat Action (ribbon),” Hoey said, “We still have several claims that Voepel has consistently made for years.”
In an email, Voepel’s Chief of Staff sent us this statement on behalf of the Assemblyman, “I am proud of my military service and my advocacy in Sacramento on behalf of veterans. Hollow political attacks are typical during campaign season. They won't distract me from continuing to serve my constituents."
As further proof, Voepel’s office released to NBC 7 Investigates a copy of the Assemblyman’s service discharge paperwork, called a DD-214.
Hoey and Wilske responded to the document by insisting it is phony since it is poorly typed and has several sections crossed out. Both told us they sent the DD-214 to other experts from stolen valor cases and those experts agreed with their findings. NBC 7 Investigates asked for the names of those experts but we haven’t received them yet.
To see the DD-214 form provided by Voepel's office, click here.
Hoey and Wilske also made allegations that Voepel has claimed he was awarded a Purple Heart. Voepel’s office said the Assemblyman has never made this claim and when we asked Hoey and Wilske for anything that might substantiate this allegation, we were told that would be forthcoming as well. NBC 7 Investigates hasn’t received this information, as of publishing time.