BARDSTOWN, KY (WAVE) - It is one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. Now a local man is accused of pretending to be, a U.S. Navy SEAL. I've been digging to find out the truth.
When we confronted retired service member Edward Vanover about the allegations he denied lying about his record.
"Absolutely not," Vanover replied when I asked if he was a phony.
But one retired Navy SEAL working to expose Vanover believes the evidence is clear that Vanover is pretending to be a member of one of the most elite fighting forces in the world, a force that was responsible for taking down Osama Bin Laden and members of Al-Qaeda.
"To be a SEAL you have put yourself at the top of the food chain," said Don Shipley, a retired Navy SEAL who works to expose phony Navy SEALs from his private military training center outside Norfolk, Virginia. Shipley said SEALs "are among the toughest men that ever walked the face of this planet."
But records show Vanover is not a Navy SEAL. Shipley claims Vanover has been living a lie by pretending to be one.
"Vanover isn't just one of these harmless bar room loud mouths," Shipley said. "He is running a shooting course, and advertising the fact that he is a SEAL."
We went undercover inside Vanover's firearms training center in Bardstown to see for ourselves. Vanover didn't talk about being a Navy SEAL when we were there, but we saw a Navy SEAL flag flying outside the shooting range. The businesses email on his website uses the word "sealed."
"That's personal," Vanover said of the email address. "That has something to do with my background, before I ever got in the military."
That's not all. We found pictures on Vanover's Facebook page that clearly show a large tattoo of the Navy SEAL Trident on his arm. In another, Vanover is pictured sporting a Navy SEAL hat on the beach. That same photo of Vanover in a Navy SEAL hat appears in the biography section of Vanover's Firearms Training Center website.
"I've got a year that I can't account for," Vanover said of his military service record.
Since Vanover couldn't fill in the gaps, we wanted to. So we did some digging into his military history using open records laws. Documents obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC reveal Vanover has 22 years of service in the Navy and Air Force but was never a Navy SEAL.
Vanover told us he never claimed to be. He said the Navy SEAL hat in the photo was a gift, and the Navy SEAL tattoo was done on a dare. Vanover said he uses the SEAL Trident as a sign of respect.
"I'm a proud supporter of those guys," sadi Vanover
But what about that email address to Vanover's firearms training center? The one that uses the word "sealed?" We tracked down Vanover's senior instructor and asked him if he ever heard Vanover claim to be a Navy SEAL. Tommy Daugherty declined comment and referred all our questions to Vanover.
"When people ask me I tell them the same story I'm telling you," Vanover said.
Shipley doesn't buy Vanover's story. He reported him to POW Network, a website that lists the names, and pictures, of people caught lying about their military service.
"If you're going to talk about your SEAL days on Facebook, then I am going to throw you to the wolves," Vanover said.
Vanover took down that Facebook page after we began our investigation. Accused of invading sacred ground by taking the name of the US Navy SEAL's.
"You are stealing the valor from everyone that has ever served in the military," Shipley said.
Falsely representing yourself as having received a military decoration or medal is a federal offense, although it is unclear if what Edward Vanover did violates the Stolen Valor Act.
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