Top

news

Stories

 

"I'm a whore for a cause," he admits on his blog.

******

The ease with which I convinced myself that all was well did not come as much of a surprise to me, as I have a well-documented track record of convincing people to believe things that are not true.

In 2007, Army Specialist Garett Reppenhagen met Rick Duncan at a meeting of the Colorado Springs branch of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The local group had about ten consistently active members, which quickly came to include Duncan.

Duncan was a charming, outgoing and intelligent — if "really weird" — man who didn't hold anything back, the group's members recall. "The first thing he ever said to me was, 'Hi, I'm Rick Duncan, a former Marine captain. I have two fake knees and a plate in my head,'" remembers Army Specialist Kyle Briggs.

At that initial meeting, Duncan shared what would become, with the occasional quirk or plot hole, his official story: He'd graduated from the prestigious United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, and the military career that followed was brilliant but blighted. On his third tour in Iraq, the Marine captain was on a routine intelligence mission when an IED, or improvised explosive device, struck his amphibious military vehicle. "I remember him breaking down in tears telling the story," Reppenhagen says. And he'd tell the story over and over, often over beers at Jack Quinn's, the bar where the Springs members of IVAW would bond after outreach events. According to one version of Duncan's tale, the vehicle held five soldiers, three of whom died while the fourth sustained wounds less serious than Duncan's. The next morning, Duncan woke up in a military hospital somewhere near Fallujah, where he underwent surgery that put a metal plate in his head and gave him two fake knees. For his role in the incident, he earned the Purple Heart.

Except that he didn't. No part of Duncan's military story was true. (A Richard T. Duncan did graduate from the Naval Academy — in 1948.) But for two years, Strandlof's exceptional acting talents and the details he pulled from online accounts of other soldiers were enough to convince the members of IVAW that he was legit. In his blog, Strandlof admits using the Internet to further his game of pretend. "I was very proud to live by my wits," he writes. "OMFG."

To join the IVAW, a vet was required to apply through the national branch, proving eligibility by sending a copy of his DD214 form, the paper that came with release from active duty. But somehow Duncan managed to get his name included on the national IVAW listing of all branch members online. "Locally as a chapter, we didn't really do a lot of investigation to see if someone had been a national member," Reppenhagen says. "But we probably should have."

Because the other members of the Springs IVAW were predominantly Army vets, they knew little about the Marines. "He could have said any number of things and I wouldn't have known the difference," says Army Specialist Mike Flaherty. And Duncan did say any number of things: In addition to describing his decorated active-duty career, Duncan also claimed to have been inside the Pentagon on September 11. He didn't share many details, but everyone knew that day was tough to talk about. Later, at a public event he staged to memorialize the victims of 9/11, Duncan choked up.

Duncan had no problem talking about his post-traumatic stress disorder, though. Unlike other members of the group with PTSD, he talked about it constantly, incessantly. While remembering his time in Iraq, he would cry or freak out and fly into a rage. He was depressed, he said. He was demoralized. He had night terrors. He hated that his brothers and sisters — his fellow Marines — were still out there. "He was manic-depressive," Reppenhagen says. "He went on pretty crazy mood swings of being extremely happy and loud and rambunctious to being moody, these two very big extremes. Before I knew he was faking, I credited it to his PTSD."

"He was your weird friend who you were always wondering what was going on," remembers Flaherty. "He would flaunt his PTSD, whereas the rest of us would try to keep it at bay. It seemed like every hour for him was just a bad PTSD hour."

Duncan was as hard-charging in private life as he'd been in his pretend public duty. He was an anti-war, anti-conservative activist who could get "fired-up" about anything from immigration to gay rights — and his new friends admired his guts as an openly gay vet. He joked about his sexuality when vets wondered how he'd escaped Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "He just told us people knew, that he told them they could out him if they wanted and no one ever did," Briggs says. "He made it sound like he had a good relationship with his Marines and they all liked him a lot."

But sometimes his joking went too far. Over beers at Flaherty's house or in local bars, he told rowdy and occasionally vulgar stories. He made anti-Semitic comments, says Army Specialist Ben Schrader. He also had large tattoos — a voluptuous lady angel and a matching busty devil — on his calves, which is "tacky" for an officer, Flaherty says. There were a few other strange behavioral tics. He never talked to his former deployment companions, and he never referred to any of them by name. He constantly brought up the scar on the right side of his head, which he attributed to the metal plate, but it was oddly small. He told his friends that the traumatic brain injury meant he wasn't allowed to drive, and yet he was often offering rides to the liquor store.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
7 comments
PalmalaHanderson
PalmalaHanderson

Having 3 sons;

1- sociopathic narcissistic sex offender felon

2- bi-polar passive-agressive never employed slacker

3- honor roll athlete of high morals

 

Is it nature or nurture?

 

Is it us (parents, still married)?

 

How come the kid we gave the least parenting to (the first two pretty much burnt us out) turned out so good?

 

Reading this story makes me realise that is a question for the ages that I will take to my grave.

 

 

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

So THIS, is what Joe Murphy does w/ his spare time....???

heckle3030
heckle3030

"He's like the Mr. Magoo of espionage."

 

I damn near broke a rib laughing. Good call, Hank!

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

So when this guy finally pops a gasket, will there be copious handwringing about the ignored -- yet obvious -- signs of mental illness?

 

 

Elwood
Elwood

Very good read.  For the sake of clarity/accuracy, Iliff is not part of DU. 

klansman
klansman

Wow - i had no clue this guy was a homo.  That sure changes my impression of him now.

 
Loading...