On video, Marine caught lying about his service

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Craig Pusley stands in front Hughson Elementary School in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday posing as a Marine sergeant and combat veteran. In reality, he was in the Marine Corps less than a year and left as a private first class. The service found him guilty of going on unauthorized absence, leading to his separation from the service, he told Marine Corps Times. (Associated Press photo)

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.

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About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

40 Comments

  1. UA = unauthorized absence, you’re in an UA status until 30 days pass at which time you are now AOL, which is absent without leave and that is a CM offense. Going UA or being UA is normally handled at the CO level and won’t bring a person to CM.

  2. Sounds to me like he WANTS to be sent ‘over there’. I think we should accommodate these azzholes and make his dreams come true…., didn’t he say he was injured? Lets put that one on the list too:)

  3. cecil burkes jr on

    Sad to see people clam such things after so many have gave alot for our country, but there will always be the ones who couldnt make and want to be something they are not but hey they are the ones whom look like fools. Cpl Burkes Jr Cecil D. USMC

  4. This is pretty unconscionable. If the guy sincerely wanted to make a symbolic gesture, then he should have shown up in civvies and left the Corps out of it (in fact, hypothetically, were his story even true, showing up in uniform when not authorized to wear it and saying he represents any component the military is inappropriate). If asked, he could have said he was in the marines in 2008 (not a lie) and then left it at that.

    Makes you wonder if his intentions were at any level good and he just went of track or if he, for some misguided reason, just wanted attention.

  5. James, it is too bad that someone attempting to do something good must be subjected by all these self-righteous military personnel that are actually doing something good! Too bad they, and other REAL veterans like me defended not only the freedom for ‘Merrrica, but also fought for the freedom of those in the Middle that never had a chance to enjoy it. I guess if these “self-righteous” people really cared, they would all go AWOL from the military too and stand out in front of our schools.

  6. I was in the Marines as well and every time I get ask anything about the Marine Corps I tell civilians. I am not the right person to give you information if you want to know anything call the Marine Corps head quarters and a Marine will give you all the information you need to know. Easy and Simple.

  7. It is a shame. The young man tried to do a good thing by offering his time and abilities to defend a school. Unfortunately, he lied about his background and experience. His motives may have been honorable, but then he should have told the truth. If he lied about his experience and background, did he lie about his motives?

  8. Craig Pusley I think is a very disturbed young man, maybe he should be the first candidate to be checked for Mental Health issues. I totally agree with number 8. Mr. McCoy. Also, last but not least, I understand we do have freedom of speech, but number 9. Mr. James G. Needham, you are an idiot

  9. If Pusley were merely trying to “do something good” (as claimed by James Needham in post 9), then he would not have donned a uniform, he would not have given himself an unearned promotion (nice jump from PFC to Sgt., all in one fell, eight-month swoop), and he would not have lied through his teeth when questioned by media. He is a self-aggrandizing, self-inflating fool whose delusions of grandeur were his ticket to fifteen minutes of fame. Now, that fifteen minutes has “run long”, and he’s been revealed. Pity is that he never will be deployed, much less forced to rehab from war wounds.

  10. I agree im ex army only in 3 years deployed to afghan but got introuble and kicked out but even as a veteran ( if im allowed to call myself that) i would never wear a army uniform again forany reason yeah i did one full enlistment but i didnt finish a second so i dont consider myself a veteran and if i dont after 3 years in and a 1 year deployment this piece of shit shouldnt either and he disgraced his uniform once and now he decided to do it again he deserves to be put in the hospital

  11. Pingback: Marine guarding school apologizes for posing as marine sergeant | CAV NEWS

  12. Ok, what I don’t understand is why he stood at a California school. If he truly wanted to make a statement, why not do it in conetticut* where the shootings actually took place?? If he’s a at a California school then he’s obviously looking for attention..

  13. His sole purpose in doing what he did was to gain notoriety in the midst of a horrible horrible tragedy. Even the journalist from the Military Times says what he did is “disturbing”. He’s being brought up on charges by the United States Marine Corps for this stunt that he’s pulled. Good intentions won’t fly when it comes to the military. He got what he wanted as far as his so-called “15 minutes of fame”, and now he’s going to get what he doesn’t want.

  14. Jim (comment #9) On your poage running for mayor of your town you are described as a Navy Veteran of the Vietnam Era. My question to you is, Have you ever heard of Stolen Valor? Do you remember how Vets were treated by people back then? Would you want to see that type of treatment of our service members again? If Pusley would have told the truth, worn the correct clothes, non of this would have gotten as bad as it has. I honestly have to say I totally object to what you wrote in you message about, I would wish you well in your up coming election, but I’m not sure I’d want to see a Vet in office that doesn’t see when others are trying and stealoing your honor along with all other US Vets.

  15. hello to all, i see many points of view about this issue and as an american i got this to say about all those comments… “nothing i have no response to any of your comments cause as an american you have every right to say what you feel and what your thoughts are on this issue. Thats what the first amendment gives you. SO WITH THAT IM MIND HEAR ME OUT.

  16. hello to all, i see many points of view about this issue and as an american i got this to say about all those comments… “nothing i have no response to any of your comments cause as an american you have every right to say what you feel and what your thoughts are on this issue. Thats what the first amendment gives you. SO WITH THAT IN MIND HEAR ME OUT.

  17. {SORRY ABOUT THE SPAM HAD TO REFRESH} I like some stuff that alot of you said about loving your country and how you all value honor, it makes me feel good that the same old traditions are kept blue and true. Just like the consitution of the united states of America. Also the oath you took is tradition. If you all can please think about that oath and the words that you swore too upheld. The chaos that is unvolding right before our eyes and the threat of another WORLD WAR and this is what you report on. The threat of police force kicking the doors in of your fellow Americans, the threat of a corupt system. the threat of the consitution being destroyed by your commander and chief, the threat of your country’s name being included with terrorism, the threat of losing all rights as an american. With all do respect the honor went right out the window way before all of you join and if you say otherwise then your where there when it happen or could have shut the window before it happen. {proof will follow this post} Im asking as we the people please open your eyes and if there open please think what ww3 will do to all of us including the rest of the world. i just want to know will you think before you act and in the words of J.F.K {a real commander and chief}…..”

  18. I just dont understand how these people think it’s okay to do the things they do. He didn’t have to wear a uniform to do this and he hasnt even been in the military for a few years. I applaud him for his intentions, but the way he went about trying to carry them out was just all wrong. After watching the interview with him it is pretty clear that all he wanted to do was lie through his teeth and glorify himself more than what he deserved. I just wish honest people with good intentions would do these types of acts, because him getting caught lying about virtually everything he has every done in the military makes all the military members look bad.

  19. I wanted to make a comment about his “intentions”. My point is that they were never good to begin with. Whenever I have done service work, one of the factors I had to look at is motive. Was I volunteering because of a desire to give back to the community, be it church or civic? On more than one occasion, I was self-centered, seeking accolades. I wasn’t being selfless, I was being selfish, even if it was, “in a good way”. Any subsequent motive past that point meant nothing.

  20. I find it very concerning that someone who misrepresents himself is allowed to stand in front of a school full of children. If he lied about his service, how do we know he isn’t lying about his motives. Anyone who would like about his rank and service record, clearly has issues and is seeking some sort of “glory”. Good thing his idea of “glory” wasn’t going bezerk and causing another horror. I do not want just “anyone” standing in front of my child’s school protecting it. I want it to be someone who doesn’t lie about his job history, someone who is trained on what to do or how to handle someone trying to make an unauthorized entrance in my childs school and someone who isn’t suffering from delusions of grandeur. Anyone(Lanza, Cho, Harris, Kleibold or the neighborhood pedophile) could put on fatigues and show up at a school claiming to be a protector.

  21. Kenneth Sawyer on

    Sadly it isn’t a crime to lie about service to the country. I am an over the road trucker and have come to learn that I must have been the only Army trucker that still trucked once out. Because every day I meet Seals, Forced Recon and spec ops guys that are now truckers. There must have been at least 1000 ex Seals out there now in trucks and about the same number of Recon Marines and Army spec opp guys. Now you could hit that number with the Marines and Army but I don’t think that there are even 1000 Seals total lol. But they all have stories of the glory that they gained in the service.. Oh heck I forgot about all of the snipers lol. Now from time to time I drove snipers to the field on training missions they were for the most part very quiet people. But once they get their CDL they will yammer your ear off.

  22. From what I understand, he has a young daughter and is divorced. Why isn’t he guarding his daughter’s school? He doesn’t work; his ex-wife therefore must work. .Therefore, his 3 year old daughter is in some kind of daycare or preschool. Yet he doesn’t guard HER school; he’s guarding someone else’s. Bizarre.

  23. Alot of people are saying that this guy was in the wrong…I say yes and no. Yes he should never have lied. But no because his heart was in the right place. He was just looking out for the teachers and the students of this school. I would shake his hand and say thank you. Who cares if he lied, atleast he helped keep your children safe, without being asked or made too, he did it out of the own goodness of his heart. And the media ALWAYS has a way of making things seem worse than what they really are….just saying….

  24. Richard.Mooney on

    I’ve served 30 plus years in the Army and Army Reserve with 3 tours of Afghanistan. I admit you don’t lie about what you did or what you earned, however this young man took a stance in front of a school to give the children inside a feeling of safety and security. And That I commend him on.

  25. lcpl sean adams usmc on

    I’ve served a tour in Afghanistan this past year and was injured by an ied and lost both legs. I am a l/cpl and in February I pick up cpl and looking at this at active marine, still serving. I give him no commend nor respected for doing what he did. he lied about his serves. and he wore his unauthorized uniform off a military establishment. And it was different for the SSgt that actually served and was retired to do the same as the pfc pusley. pusley even lying about his rank. a e-2(pfc) is fare from a e-5(sgt). if the marine corps is lenient on pfc pusely then it gives ever person that never made the cut at boot camp the right to brag about being marines when they never made it throw basic training. there’s no excuse for he’s action. I stand behind the commandant of the marine corps gen. Amos and the officers in his staff, to take action upon pfc pusley for he’s fraudulent valor that he committed. it would have been different if he was wearing a marine core t-shirt and said he had enlisted in to the marines and wasn’t able to finish boot camp. but while at boot camp he had been taught about honor, courage, commitment. and that gave him the drive to stand and support the nation wide personal that are participating in guarding school that are service man and women the are retired or off of active duty service. that would be a different story.

  26. I think it was a slap in the face of every single man and woman who has ever served. How dare he claim to be a hero who was wounded when he was nothing more than a dropout. Some say First Amendment. I say bull, our founding fathers didn’t make that rule for liars. You say he had good intentions, liars aren’t to be trusted.

  27. Carol Evanicky on

    I am reeling right now…I know this man and am appalled by his actions. He is a pathological lair and does not deserve any sympathy or accolades at all.

    I have two sons who have served this country well. One a Marine who served a tour in Iraq and the second who was in the Army and served two tours in Afghanistan.

    The nephew of a family member was killed serving in Afghanistan, so how dare anyone say that this loser is to be admired or honored. He is a self-serving ass that deserves what he get.

  28. Cindy Reamsbottom on

    People are so negative.. if you go back to the posting people are calling him names and such.. no wonders people don’t do kind things like this anymore.. your called a freak.. even if he lied about his rank, I still thank and applaud him!

  29. Cindy Reamsbottom on

    Anyone that says they’ve never told a lie is lying.. so does that mean we don’t trust anyone. Anyone without sin cast the first stone..

  30. This is typical for our military to use the rules that apply when they conveniently use it. This man is a hero and interacting with the our children, yet being punished for showing his support and giving back to our communities, while everyone around him is thanking him for coming to the school and impress the kids of our future military – let our kids be proud of seeing our Marines, and show their gratitude for the uniform and soldier that fought for his and their freedom.

    This is being blown out of proportion and yet I see the reporter abusing their privilges and the military using him as an example for ‘justice’ and yet the president can use a plan for personal use and not prosecuted or impeached. This is strange will not charge the Commander in Chief for his outlandish behavior but call out at hero “Marine” for doing something out of character, this should not be authorized to continue and against Constitution that he defended. Yet, the military has their own rules, but don’t apply to those in charge and not handle appropriately.

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