Marine 'faked war story'

A so-called war hero who claimed to have been wounded when he dived to shield a buddy from a grenade in Afghanistan is facing a court martial by the US Marines for making the story up.

Sergeant David W Budwah was allegedly never in Afghanistan, was not wounded and did not earn the medals he wore. Prosecutors say he accepted invitations to rock concerts, baseball games, banquets and other events meant to fete wounded servicemen. He allegedly bluffed his way into 33 events in 2008. Mr Budwah faces more than 30 years in prison and a dishonourable discharge if convicted next month.

Budwah joined the Marines in October 1999 and spent nearly all of the next six years with a radio communications unit in Okinawa, Japan, according to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, where Budwah has been stationed since February 2006.

Phony heroes are not unusual. Thousands of complaints pour in annually to the FBI and civilian groups about impostors flaunting store-bought medals.

Budwah's case is remarkable because he is an active-duty Marine facing military justice, not a civilian charged with wearing unearned medals. Of nearly 3,100 courts-martial last year in the four major armed services, only 27 were trials for wearing illegal decorations. Just two involved Marines.

He faked post-traumatic stress disorder in hopes of leaving service early and was sent to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, where he bluffed his way into 33 events from late July through November 2008, according to charges obtained by The Associated Press through an appeal of its Freedom of Information Act request.

Bethesda hospital spokesman Chris Walz said the staff tries to involve as many patients as possible in such activities, which range from free sports event tickets to speaking engagements like Budwah's at the youth camp.

The charges include making false official statements, malingering, misconduct and larceny. Budwah faces up to 31 1/2 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on all eight counts at a trial set for Oct. 20.