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SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask David Groves what he was doing during the Vietnam War, he would say he volunteered to serve with the Army's 5th Special Forces Group, was wounded in an ambush and captured, and was starved and tortured for six months until he escaped into the jungle and hid for two weeks.
If you check with the Department of Defense, however, you wouldn't find any that information recorded.
Mary Schantag has been flagging imposters for more than two decades for the Prisoner of War Network. Currently, she is awaiting a letter from the National Personnel Records Center, which told her preliminarily they cannot find any military records on Groves.
"It is our opinion that he is not a former POW, that he was not with the Green Berets or special forces in Vietnam," Schantag said. "To have been missed from every one of the files and lists and determinations is just an impossibility."
Friday, April 13, Groves took part in a luncheon the Veterans Administration hosted to honor Utah's surviving POWs. Groves was honored at a Veterans Day celebration at the University of Utah in 2000. In 2003, his story was flagged by the POW Network, which Schantag said is common among stories like his.
"They're looking for a freebie," Schantag said. "I don't care if it's a free beer, a date, of VA disability. They're looking for something. They don't do it just because they can."
The Department of Defense lists 662 Americans as POWs during the Vietnam War, a list that does not include Groves. Through his wife, Groves insists that he is a POW, but will not explain why he is not on the list.
It is our opinion that he is not a former POW, that he was not with the Green Berets or special forces in Vietnam.
–- Mary Schantag, POW Network
"We are retaining legal counsel," the Groves family said in a statement. "Until then, we have no further comment, except to say, these accusations are entirely false and defamatory."
Could the records be wrong?
"In the 3,000 cases that we follow, not one has ever proven the Department of Defense records wrong," Schantag said.
Retired Navy combat pilot Mike McGrath is the historian for NAM-POWs, Inc. and spent five years and eight months as a POW in Hanoi during Vietnam.
Many of his close friends are also Vietnam-era POWs, and he has helped track down some of the 3,000 fakes — more than four times the number of real Vietnam POWs, according to McGrath.
"Unless this guy has some written proof, or some eyewitness proof, he's not one of us, he wasn't with any one of us of the 662 that got out alive," McGrath said.
Jay C. Hess of Farmington was also honored at the VA luncheon earlier this month. He suspected there was an imposter, because he thought he knew all of the Utah Vietnam POWs.
Hess flew more than 30 combat missions as an Air Force fighter pilot before he was shot down and endured more than 2,000 days in captivity.
"If you're not a phoney, get it corrected," Hess said.
Those who pose as POWs don't make him mad. But, he says, it diminishes the valor of those who did serve. "We ought to be as a country, able to look at a person in uniform and feel respect for them, and not have a suspicion," Hess said.
VA will make a statement about Groves' case Tuesday. David Groves refused comment.