Last week we shared with you a story that happened inside the TPR studios when an Army veteran and fan of NPR’s David Greene presented David with his service coin.
Texas Public Radio’s Eileen Pace has an update on the story after learning more about the soldier’s service.
When TPR volunteer Victor Martinez was answering phones during the spring pledge drive this April he heard David Greene was coming in from NPR and had an idea. Joyce Slocum is TPR’s president and CEO.
"He had talked to my assistant. He then sent an email to her asking if we could make arrangements for him to meet David and tell his story," Slocum said.
The tale was poignant: His wife sent him recordings of "Morning Edition" on CDs, and hearing David’s soothing voice delivering the day’s news from back home calmed him when it became hard to cope with the stress of a deployment.
"So I said, 'Yes.' We would make arrangements for Victor to meet David," Slocum said. "I thought it was a very touching story and I knew that David would appreciate hearing it."
Martinez’ story quickly spread through the radio station, and we thought our members and listeners would enjoy hearing it too. So we broadcast the story to you last Monday of the events as they had taken place in Slocum’s office.
"David, this is really a milestone for me, and I'll tell you why," Martinez had told Greene. "I've had two tours in Iraq. And the second one was very, very hard."
We soon discovered a problem with Martinez’ story: His claim of service in Iraq in 2012 should have been a red flag because the U.S left Iraq in 2011.
So I checked with the U.S. Army Reserve and learned that Martinez’ service records did not correspond to his story.
"Every Army Reserve soldier when they deploy, when they come back and that active duty time is ended, they will receive a DD-214. It's a very important form to have that proves you deployed, proves your service," said Lt. Col. Matthew Lawrence, chief of public Information with the U.S. Army Reserve Command at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Lawrence checked all of Martinez' records and found only one DD-214, and it was from Martinez' original Army service, not as a reservist: "There was only one DD-214, and that was when he left active duty in 1999.
"That was not a time that we deployed a lot of people. We did deploy people for the first Gulf War but there's no indication that Martinez had done that at that time either," Lawrence said.
Martinez had told Greene in the original meeting that he went to Iraq to work with soldiers who had post-traumatic stress disorder.
"What we really were doing was crisis intervention of those people that were experiencing that PTSD and depression and everything that you can imagine -- at that time. Real time -- that moment," Martinez said when I first interviewed him after he presented his company coin to Greene.
But, in fact, at that moment in time Martinez was actually here in San Antonio serving in the 5501st U.S. Army Hospital.
I contacted Martinez with this new information and, after a couple of conversations, he agreed to come back to the radio station to clear things up.
MARTINEZ: "No, I did not go to Iraq," Martinez said. "No, I fabricated that."
Martinez showed me his Army retirement I.D. He said his service in the Army and the Army Reserves was real. The coin was real but his story was not. And there were no CDs of Morning Edition mailed to Iraq as he had said.
MARTINEZ: "The love and admiration was real, but the story was not, about the deployment. I did listen to 'Morning Edition' and his voice and so forth -- here."
PACE: "Here in San Antonio?"
MARTINEZ: "That is correct. Here."
PACE: "How did you listen to him? Through what device?"
MARTINEZ: "My car radio."
PACE: "So there aren't any CDs?"
I then spoke with Dr. Robert Feldman, deputy chancellor and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a renown researcher and author in the field of deceptive behaviors.
“First of all, lying works,” Feldman said. “We learn over the course of every day life that in fact lying is an effective social tactic. So people lie very often because they can just get away with it.”
Feldman said there’s also a social construct that helps people believe the deception.
“Very often there’s almost a conspiracy between someone who tells a lie and the person hearing a lie. The person telling the lie is motivated to do it for one reason or another. The person listening to the lie probably doesn’t want to expend the mental energy to question the lie.
“If we spent all our time thinking about what other people were telling us and whether it was true or not, that would take an awful lot of time and energy. Most of the time, we just accept what other people tell us. So people get away with their lies,” Feldman said.
That doesn’t excuse our failure here at TPR to do our due diligence, but it could explain why someone fabricating a story could expect it to be well received.
Feldman said people also lie because they are insecure, or depressed. Victor has allowed us to share that he had been diagnosed with PTSD and depression.
“I think he was concerned that his story, as it was, wasn’t powerful enough to get him that introduction,” Slocum said. “And I gave it a lot of thought over the past hours. Would I have been as eager to make that introduction for him? I think I would have if he’d just said, ‘I’ve had a really hard time and through that time hearing David’s voice was really a comfort to me.’
“I think I would have. I can’t say 100 percent, but yes. And I don’t think Victor’s a bad person at all,” she said.
We spoke with Martinez further about the effect of this story might have on fellow military members.
PACE: "There are several military people who have commented to me on this story and about how much it meant to them. And some of them have been deployed and they felt a kinship with you. What do you say to those people that are now going to hear the other side of this story, and they served and did the things you said you did, and they hear now that you made this up?"
MARTINEZ: "I’m so so sorry. I mean, it’s been a disservice and I do apologize, profusely, for just a matter of one moment of weakness as far as my integrity, which I have never practiced before in my whole, entire life. And I do apologize to the TPR public for having done this. I am so sorry. I am."
Today’s war has brought an increased awareness of PTSD among veterans and civilians, and the realization that causes of PTSD can be varied.
Victor now works at the Veterans Administration office in San Antonio. He says he works to help homeless veterans get housing, and he says he is getting the help he needs.