68-year-old Wayne Ridgley is a Vietnam war hero. He served 14 months, is a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor recipient. He was medically retired as a corporal, military records show.
It’s the gunnery sergeant’s stripes on the sleeves of his dress blue uniform and Silver Star medals that he wears– but reportedly did not earn– that has people upset.
Most recently these issues came to community members’ attention at the American Legion USS Tampa Post 5 Memorial Day ceremony.
“For someone that served to actually claim something that they didn’t actually earn, that is worse than a civilian doing it, because they actually know what it costs to earn an award,” said Anthony Anderson, with the group Guardian of Valor.
Newschief.com reports that Anderson estimates his organization gets up to 70 cases a week involving invalid service time, rank and awards.
Ridgley admits he was ‘young and dumb,’ working as a hot dog vendor at MacDill AFB in the mid -80’s, when he started to lie about his service.
“I wanted to feel strong again,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. Being a gunnery is the best rank in the Corps, he said. “I was enjoying it,” Ridgley said. “It felt like I was somebody and I did it for a long time”. Ridgley admits that he knew one day he would get caught, but it just made him feel so important.
Ridgley was 21-years-old when he served as a Marine rifleman in 1969. He lost his leg after being hit by a mortar round and is considered 100% disabled. He also suffers from PTSD and lost his kidney 2 years ago as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
He is a member at the Marine Raider Lunch Bunch, a group of vets that meets regularly to honor the Marine Corps unit of the same name that served in World War II. Gary Somerville, a retired Marine Major and Korean War vet who knew Ridgley, says he remains welcome at the group’s gatherings.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine. All he has to do is let us know he is sorry for what he did,” Somerville said. “He is a good guy.”
However, this stolen valor “epidemic” sweeping the country has other vets incensed and they don’t feel the same way about Ridgley.
He will no longer be invited to future military events, they say. “It doesn’t sit very well with me,” said Bill Hamblin, commander of Post 5.
“A lot of people tell war stories. But if you are wearing stuff and representing yourself, that’s different.”
Ridley though promises to make amends. He’s embarrassed by his actions, ashamed for what he did all those years. “I blew it…I got a lot of explaining to do, to all my friends. I know I didn’t do right by doing this stuff,” he said.
People like Deb Tamargo, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, are willing to forgive him and look at the positive things he’s done for the community over the years.
“He is a most phenomenal volunteer, who never really speaks of his rank or awards… he is a very kind, loving, amazing person”.
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