The Phony Veteran is a character who either lies outright about having any military service or greatly exaggerates their rank or achievements. Often, they will at best act as a Hero of Another Story, but are liable to being more of The Neidermeyer or a Drill Sergeant Nasty, ordering others around based upon their (fake) expertise and credentials. Others try to excuse their vicious or self-centered behavior with the claim that they are the Shell-Shocked Veteran.
It's worth noting, that in the United States at least, laws have started to be passed making this behavior illegal.
Needless to say, Truth in Television.
See also Miles Gloriosus.
- The police chief in Kirby: Right Back at Ya! spends one episode bragging about how he served in the army, but it's later revealed that he was talking about his brother's former career to try and get some respect. When Police Are Useless you can hardly blame him.
- According to a recent chapter of Black Lagoon, Dutch may be one of these, as a military character points to flaws in Dutch's accounts of serving in Vietnam.
- In the Superman comics, Robert DuBois has a mental breakdown and becomes obsessed with the Vietnam War, after learning that his brother, Michael aka "Micky" had gone to fight in his place and became a quadruple amputee. Robert starts claiming that he actually fought in the war alongside his brother. Lex Luthor equips him as the supervillain Bloodsport and sends him up against Superman.
- In Vigilante, Dave Winston (a.k.a. the Vigilante) is horrified when he runs across a man nicknamed 'Sarge' who fantasises about the Vietnam War (the same war Dave served in) and falsely claims to have served.
Film -- Animated
- Fowler from Chicken Run says he belonged to a Royal Air Force squadron. While he was indeed part of a human squadron, it isn't at all like the other chickens think, so when Ginger tells him to go pilot the airplane they built ...
Fowler: 644 Squadron, Poultry Division - we were the mascots.
Ginger: You mean you never actually *flew* the plane?
Fowler: Good heavens, no! I'm a chicken! The Royal Air Force doesn't let chickens behind the controls of a complex aircraft.
Film -- Live Action
- Four Leaf Tayback in Tropic Thunder, who wrote a book that the titular movie was based on about his "experiences" in the Vietnam War (in truth he served in the Coast Guard as part of Sanitation Services). Although he later says that the book was meant to be a "Tribute" he keeps up the masquerade, including getting fake hooks for hands and acting like a Shell Shocked Senior.
- There's no definite proof either way, but it's been suggested that Walter from The Big Lebowski is one of these. He certainly does go on about Vietnam a lot, yet never mentions any specifics, just lots of ranting about guys dying face down in the mud...
- A Very Discreet Hero is about an ordinary young Frenchman who, in the post-WW 2 years, invents for himself a heroic background as a Resistance fighter.
- At one point in the film Trading Places, Eddie Murphy's character pretends to be a disabled homeless Vietnam veteran.
- The bum harassing D-FENS in Falling Down uses this as one of his excuses to get money from him, claiming to be a Vietnam veteran despite only being around 30 at most.
D-FENS: What were you - a drummer boy? You must've been 10 years old.
- The Reluctant Astronaut has the hometown hero at one point admitting to Don Knotts' character that he was never a soldier like he claimed: he was a librarian, and even his "war wound" was just the result of an on-the-job injury. Since Don Knotts' character has inadvertently been trumped up as an astronaut even though NASA simply hired him on as a janitor, this amounts to Oblivious Guilt Slinging.
- In Due Date Peter thinks that a guy they're talking to is one of these. When he comes out from behind his desk, he's in a wheelchair. And proceeds to beat Peter up. Ouch.
- Movie critic Stephen Hunter has speculated that Travis Bickle lied about being a Viet Nam veteran in Taxi Driver. Which wouldn't be out of character for Bickle.
- 'General' Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights. General Puskin gives a scathing rundown of his actual military record.
- Early in Payback, Villain Protagonist Porter passes by a beggar who claims to be a crippled Vietnam veteran. When Porter goes to take some of the "crippled" beggar's money, the guy immediately leaps to his feet and tries to stop Porter. Naturally, it's strongly hinted that he's lying about being a vet too.
- Thenardier of Les Misérables spent the Napoleonic Wars robbing corpses but boasts about his war heroism, had an inn with a patriotic title, and in the musical is introduced dressed as a Napoleonic soldier.
- In the Posleen War Series book Hell's Faire, by John Ringo, when visiting No Name Key in Florida, Mike O'Neal Jr's claim of being in the military is initially questioned by the residents, thanks to them having been fooled, previously, by someone claiming to be a veteran to leech off of them.
- While he actually did serve in World War I, Grimes in Evelyn Waugh's novel Decline and Fall serves as an example. He is missing a leg, and while he received the injury after the war from being hit by a car, his pupils (he's a schoolmaster) assume that this was a war injury, a notion of which he does nothing to disabuse them.
- Inverted in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Taking Of Chelsea 426, with the character of the Major, an apparently senile old duffer forever droning on about his military career, with copious hints that he's really one of these. While he does prove to have a good deal of bravery and military knowledge, the punchline comes after his Heroic Sacrifice, when the Doctor reads the obituary of Field-Marshal Henry Whittington-Smythe and says "I knew he wasn't really a Major!"
- In Dave Barry's Big Trouble, Snake tries to take advantage of his new ankle injury by posing as a Vietnam vet, along with his bud Eddie. Nobody gives them anything, because they're obviously too young to have served in the Vietnam War.
- In Dads Army, Captain Mainwaring sometimes goes on about his service in the Great War, although he actually served in 1919 after the war had ended. It's especially ironic as he leads a platoon full of genuine veterans, including a Military Medal recipient.
- Inverted by Pops, in Time Gentlemen Please, who "didn't fight in World War II... admittedly".
- The beginning of the very first episode of Cheers has a kid trying to using a fake military ID to buy beer. A kid who's 12 at most:
Sam: Ah! Military ID! "Sgt. Walter Keller. Born 1944" That makes you about 38. You must have fought in 'Nam!
Kid: Oh yeah.
Sam: What was it like?
Sam: Yeah, that's what they say. "War is gross". [gives back the ID] I'm sorry soldier.
Kid: [beat] This is the thanks we get.
- An episode of House (the episode after House has gone back to working at Princeton Plainsboro, after recovering from going insane and then realizing that only diagnostics gives him the constant thrill he needs to keep the pain down, now that Vicodin is no longer an option) features a very cranky man with one arm, living in the apartment below Wilson's. Allegedly he served in Vietnam, which is where he lost the arm. Subverted in that he actually did serve - just not in Vietnam. And not in the U.S. Army; he's actually a Canadian citizen who lost the arm during a peace-keeping mission, while trying to save a kid from a landmine in a country near Vietnam. He's irritable for much the same reasons House is: he's in constant pain, due to phantom limb pain; House fixes this and the guy breaks down crying with relief because for the first time in over thirty years, he isn't in agony. It's never made clear whether he stopped claiming he was in Nam - it's implied, when he's telling House what really happened to his arm, that he just finds it easier to let people think it was Nam rather than deal with the questions that the truth would spur.
- Richie in Bottom frequently tries to pass himself off as a war veteran, but is inevitably undone by his own stupidity and Eddie.
- In "Apocalypse", he claims to have "Hurt my leg in the Falklands Conflict".
Man: Did he?
Eddie: Oh yeah, he tripped over the coffee table trying to switch channels.
- In "Parade", his attempt to cop off with a barmaid by using his Falklands story is ruined by Eddie ("This is all a load of bollocks") and an I Am One of Those, Too encounter with a real disabled Falklands veteran ("I don't believe a word of this. In fact I don't believe it so much I'm gonna smash your face in!")
- In the second Bottom Live stage show, he claims in a letter to the Queen to be an "Old soldier who during the war fought a desperate rearguard action in Burma."
Eddie: Ah, yes by 'war' I assume you mean Operation Desert Storm, by 'Burma', the Star of Burma kebab and peep show on the Uxbridge road in which you spent the entire conflict, and by 'desperate rearguard action' I take it you are referring to the time you accidentally went into the same cubicle as Mad Quentin Trousers-Down Pervy O'Blimey.
Richie: I was doing my bit Eddie. I was doing my bit.
- Captain Peacock of Are You Being Served claims to have fought Rommel in World War II and (of course) to have been a captain (in the Army, of course); however, he later admits he served in the Royal Army Service Corps—the logistics department.
- In Boardwalk Empire, Al Capone claims to be a veteran of World War I, and says he served in the Lost Battalion. A real veteran eventually figures him out and calls him on it. Capone's claims are Truth in Television.
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie figures out that he can get free lapdances if he claims to be a crippled war veteran. He adopts a costume straight out of Born On the Fourth of July. Frank steals his idea and one-ups him by pretending to be quadriplegic. Ultimately the ruse is pointless, since Frank showers the strippers with money to get even more attention.
- Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers, of all people, was apparently in Korea: when he threatens a guest with "I've killed men!" his wife adds "he was in the Catering Corps. He poisoned them."
- An episode of 8 Simple Rules had one of these. Rory was hanging out with a friend while on vacation, and his parents wanted to meet the friend to make sure he wasn't causing trouble. They're very surprised when the friend turns out to be a 70+ year old vet... and surprised again when a police brings both Rory and the old man back, then berates the man for telling "that war vet story" again.
- Foggy from Last of the Summer Wine, although whether his supposed war stories were just exaggerated or pure invention varied over the course of the show.
- From Tim Wilson's song Brother in Law:
He tries to blame it all on Vietnam.
But he wasn't there, he was fifteen in '74
- Coach Oleander in Psychonauts was never involved in a war, despite his mindscape; a mental vault reveals that he was actually rejected when he tried to join the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and even the cooking staff wouldn't take him.
- The heavy weapons dealer, Phil Cassidy, from the Grand Theft Auto series wears military-style clothes, and claims to have lost his left arm when he was stationed in Nicaragua. GTA Vice City reveals that he never was in the army, who turned him down numerous times because of his bad temper and tendency towards alcoholism, and that he lost his arm due to an accident with a homemade bomb.
- Subverted by the Soldier in Team Fortress 2. On the one hand, contrary to his claims, he has never served a day in any regular army, and all those medals on his chest were actually self-awarded; on the other, he did (if he must say so himself) earn the aforementioned medals by flying himself out to war zones and fighting on his own initiative, and it is hard to argue with his prowess...
- If you check the dates, however, it looks more like he spent much of that time murdering German civilians after the war was over.
- Played with in Deadly Premonition with General Lysander. York calls him out on the fact that he's wearing a sergeant's uniform. It turns out he really was promoted to General in Vietnam, but kept his old uniform out of guilt.
- Major Krum of the Wallace and Gromit games may be one, seeing as he can't remember whether he was in the artillery or the RAF. Then again, maybe he's just senile.
- Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. He insists he used to be a high-ranking member of SOLDIER and demands appropriate respect and admiration from the other characters for this, and he has the poise and posturing down (not to mention the fighting talent). But as more and more of his past is revealed it becomes apparent that it's all an elaborate lie which he has begun to believe himself due to a combination of magic, psychological trauma, half-remembered war stories from his friend, and severe brain damage. Finding out the truth leads to him having a total Heroic BSOD until he is able to accept his real past.
- Principal Longfellow from Better Days claimed to be a Vietnam veteran who served with Sheila's husband Jim, who died there. In fact, he only briefly served in a supply unit. When his lie is exposed, he attempts to rape her. Later it turns out Jim wasn't in Vietnam either, for different reasons.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: No one said wars can't be waged against home furnishings.
- The Simpsons:
- In one episode, Homer claims to be a Vietnam vet in order to get free admittance to the State Fair.
- Subverted by Grampa- when he tells Bart about his experiences in World War I, Barts calls him out on it, pointing out that he couldn't possibly be that old. Grandpa corrects him, cutting to a flashback of a five-year-old Abe in an over-sized uniform.
- Grampa tells a lot of stories about WWII—like the time he posed as a burlesque singer in Munich and accidentally drew Hitler's eye—but one episode shows that one of his ramblings, that he was the leader of a platoon which included the fathers of several Springfield regulars as well as Mr. Burns himself, is in fact 100% true.
- Andy Anderson of Life With Louie defines this trope—he has over hundred of stories about his heroic acts during World War Two. When Louie actually writes them all down for a school project, other kids quickly points out how some of them are impossible, require him to be in two different countries at the same time, or be much older than he really is (he even had a story happening during the war in Spain, for heaven's sake!). In fact, all of them are true, but have been done by other veterans and Andy appropriated them, because he was ashamed of his own act of heroism.
- Cotton Hill of King of the Hill is eventually called on the fact that his stories place him in the European and Pacific theaters at the same time. It turns out that the European part was fake, but the Pacific part may well be true - it's kind of hard to argue with a man who doesn't have shins anymore.
- Gru from Despicable Me had his minions write up false personal achievements for him. One of them was declaring that he had being awarded the Medal of Honor in 1991.
- Phil from Hey Arnold! told a story wherein he gave Adolf Hitler himself a wedgie. He is called out for this by Arnold, and proceeds to tell the story of how he incapacitated a troop of German soldiers by giving them spoiled Spam.