After David John Thistle, a resident of The Woodlands, nabbed 53 votes in the Feb. 11 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, his alleged false claims to have been an elite U.S. Navy SEAL drew scrutiny from veterans, including Don Shipley, a retired Navy SEAL senior chief who now resides in Maryland.
Shipley is widely known in military circles as a detective of sorts who has made it one of his life’s missions to track down people who make false claims about their military service, especially those who may claim they were once a SEAL or even a prisoner of war. Shipley works with his wife, Diane, in helping track down imposters, news of which he posts onto his popular website. The couple also operate a business in Maryland where former military veterans, many of whom are handicapped, can hunt and relax at his rural property.
After news of Thistle’s showing in the New Hampshire primary, Shipley posted another video on his website decrying the alleged claims of being a SEAL that he says Thistle has made. The Villager did a quick telephone interview with Shipley about the issue. Shipley became an official SEAL in 1985 and retired in 2003, making him one of the longer serving SEALs in the service’s history.
QUESTION: Why do people fabricate their military credentials or armed service resume? Is there something they are gaining from the ruse?
SHIPLEY: “They only do it for three reasons. One is to gain respect for something they didn’t do, they’re underachievers. Most of the time, if they actually did serve, they had a bad run in the military that they’re terribly ashamed of and they crave that respect. They tell you they’re a Navy SEAL so you’ll drool all over them. The other kind of guy does it to intimidate you. He he scares women, he scares kids, he scares the neighbors… telling you, ‘I can kill you with a plastic spoon or a rolled up (newspaper).’ He is just a bully. The third kind of guy does it to build trust. I don’t understand why this happens, but when you tell someone you were a Navy SEAL, it instantly builds trust. And (imposters) will take full advantage of that, especially on dating sites. It is the guy who will put a roof on your house and say that he needs all the money up front, then you never see him again…wanting to be pool boys for widows. They really hit up churches a lot for money, (saying), ‘I’m homeless, give me money.’ (It is) to build trust.”
QUESTION: What motivated you to become a so-called “detective” trying to catch military service imposters?
SHIPLEY: “There are other sites that do what I do…Army guys, Marines…but by and large, if you ask them, it was because (we’ve) been taken by (an imposter) and embarrassed by one. I certainly did (get fooled). I was taken by a Marine. He did serve, but did not do what he was (falsely) claiming. I labeled him a hero in front of a bunch of young guys. That really, really upset me. I think he just got released from prison for frauding the VA. The first phony SEAL (I discovered), I was just verifying it from the database. I have access to the guys in that (official U.S. Navy) database, I would just tell people: that guy is lying to you. There are two kinds of phonies I really hate, the first is the religious guy who will wear a crucifix and lie and lie about being a SEAL. The second one is the guy who will freely give advice to young guys aspiring to be SEALs. I went after one of those guys who was giving bad information, as if the training isn’t hard enough, and he threatened to have me killed. That is when (my website) took off.”