Stolen Valor: A phony Bataan Death March survivor was exposed by a real survivor

Kinue Tokudome
 

When I visited the home of retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Robert Brown, the first thing he showed me was a list of his fellow members of the 34th Pursuit Squadron who died as POWs of the Japanese.  It showed that they died on the Bataan Death March, at Camp O’Donnell, at Camp Cabanatuan, on the Hellship Shinyo Maru, on the Hellship Arisan Maru, and in Japan. In all, 143 of the 238 men in his unit perished during captivity under the Japanese.  

The memories of these men were dear to Chief Brown.  He would not tolerate any attempt to dishonor their memories.

Chief Brown shared with me a fascinating story of his exposing a person who falsely claimed to be a Bataan Death March survivor.

It was the spring of 1996 when Chief Brown read an article about another Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, Spenser B. Dukes, published in the magazine Air Force Sergeants. The article was entitled, “The Hero To Look Up To,” and said that CMSgt Dukes was a Bataan Death March survivor who spent war years at various Japanese POW camps.

For almost five years, Chief Brown had been hearing about this person who was making many “moving” speeches about his POW experience at Air Force bases across the country. Yet, he had never met him at any POW reunion, nor could he find Chief Dukes’ name on the roster of “American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor” or that of “American Ex-Prisoners of War.”  Because of the Privacy Act, however, he could not check Chief Dukes’ military records. 

After reading the article, Chief Brown was convinced that this person was lying. The article said that buck sergeant Dukes was promoted, after the Japanese attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, to master sergeant and designated as the first sergeant for a company of the Philippine Scouts. It went on to write that he survived the Bataan Death March, was later moved to another camp along the Mongolian-Russian border, and eventually ended up in a site about 14 miles away from Hiroshima, Japan in February of 1944. He claimed that he witnessed the dropping of the Atomic bomb, saying, “…we were hit with falling pieces of wood and even bits of flesh from the bomb fallout.”

Chief Brown knew that no American enlisted men were assigned to the Philippine Scouts and that Dukes’ name was not on the roster of the Mukden POW camp, the Allied POW camp near the Mongolian-Russian border, where he himself was held.

Having learned from the article that CMSgt Dukes’ name would soon be added to the "First Sergeant of the Year Award" by the Air Force, Chief Brown decided to take action.

What follow are excerpts of letters exchanged between Chief Brown and CMSgt of the Air Force, David Campanale, who handled this issue for the US Air Force. 


Letter from Brown

The Chief (Dukes) was apparently in many places at the right time, which makes a good story. … It makes me very sad to question the veracity of another chief and I sincerely hope that you understand my sincerity. The award that you are about to bestow on Chief Dukes is a great honor and if we should find a discrepancy, now is the time to know.

Would you please check Chief Dukes’ military personnel records from beginning to end and put my mind to rest? If I have erred in this request I will personally apologize to Chief Dukes.

Your response is requested.

Reply from Campanale

Since I’m the individual who worked this issue I feel bound to respond. I’ve known Chief Dukes for many years and never once felt compelled to ask him to verify in some official capacity that he was what he said to be. I do not intend to start now. … You’ve questioned Chief Dukes’ word and his worthiness to have the First Sergeant of the Year Award named in his honor, so be it. I do not, and I stand behind the award and all that Chief Dukes represents….

It is my opinion that you have erred in fact and judgment and do owe Chief Dukes an apology.

From Brown 

Being a retired CMSgt I was chosen to correspond with your office on a Chief to Chief basis. The intent being that we could save your prestigious office some embarrassment down the road if we find that Chief Dukes is not in fact one of us. Chief, we do not question Chief Dukes’ worthiness to have the First Sergeant of the Year Award. I am sure he is one damn good First Sergeant; however, using Bataan as a stepping stone to this fame is not acceptable to us and the sacrifices we endured.

You have elected not to honor my request to check his records, so be it. We will continue in our efforts to find the truth and if our suspicions are correct we will expose Chief Dukes through every media available to us, and there are many.

Apologies to Chief Dukes at this time, I don’t think so! Erred in fact and judgment, that remains to be seen. …

From Campanale

Again, I stand behind the award we’ve chosen to present to Air Force First Sergeants in CMSgt Dukes’ name, his record of accomplishment and his military service. … I certainly understand your desire to protect the history and integrity of a great group of people, but in my eyes you’ve already labeled him false and I’m not sure any number of facts or documents presented otherwise would change your mind.

Whatever course you take is well within your right and you’ve certainly given me an opportunity to respond. I appreciate the courtesy, but Chief Dukes is the real thing and when you discover you’re incorrect in your suspicions I sincerely hope you’ll use every media opportunity available to so state your error and apologize to him.

From Brown 

(He enclosed a letter from an official of “American ex-Prisoners of War” who wrote that he had not been able to find Chief Dukes’ name on the membership list of his organization or that of “American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.”)

Chief, you might want to reconsider my original request to check out Chief Dukes’ personnel records, instead of questioning my integrity. This is just one of several documents that are currently being compiled for submission through channels, which I think you should be made aware of.

As I previously stated, I do not want you or your prestigious office or the United States Air Force to be embarrassed! This man is not a Bataan survivor or a WWII POW. It is time for our military judicial system to take appropriate action and stop the charade of Chief Dukes.

Your immediate response is again requested.

From Campanale

The letter you provided as “one of several documents that are currently being compiled for submission through channels” doesn’t prove your case in my estimation. It only alludes to the fact that Chief Dukes is not a member of AXPOW or ADBC. …Chief, instead of telling me that this is one document of several others, why don’t you just provide me the documents to prove your point? Instead of asking me to ask Chief Dukes to provide proof, why don’t you?

You’ve asked me to ask my friend and a fellow Chief to prove he’s not a liar. Well, I'm not going to do that. If you want to, that’s your prerogative. I also believe you’ll find that the military justice system, inspector general complaints system, or any legal system would tell you the same thing.
 

* Then the inspector general office of the March Air Force Base heard about Chief Brown's inquiry regarding Chief Dukes' records. It decided to look into the matter and found out that Chief Dukes was not in Bataan, not even in the Pacific theater during WWII. It was also revealed that he falsely claimed that he had received, among other awards, Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, Airman’s Medal, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. He received none of them.

Chief Brown received the following letter from new Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Eric Benken who replaced Chief Campanale. (Chief Brown believed that it was due to Chief Campanale’s handling of the Dukes affair.)
 

From Chief Benken

We have learned that there are inaccuracies in the reports of combat duty for Chief Dukes. We have confirmed that he was not a prisoner of war nor was he a participant in the Bataan Death March.

We will no longer use Chief Dukes as an official Air Force spokesman for PME classes or for other groups. We are taking steps to remove his name from the First Sergeant of the Year Award.

I regret any inconvenience this matter has caused you or any member of your group, and I appreciate your bringing it to our attention.

 

After the whole story was reported in the Air Force Times as “Chiefgate,” many readers wrote to the editor that Chief Campanale should apologize to Chief Brown. He never did.

Chief Brown told me, "Those who died as POWs were the ones who fought the magnificent battle of keeping the Japanese forces from taking over the Philippines for four months, completely upsetting the Japanese timetable for victory. I would do exactly the same thing tomorrow if I find someone falsely claiming that he is a Bataan Death March survivor."

 

                         
    Brown (17) soon-to-be a Bataan Death Marcher               CMSgt. Robert Brown, USAF (Ret.)


Read also Chief Brown's POW Story and the report on his return visit to Camp Mukden.
 

*  Robert A. Brown, CM Sgt US Air Force (ret.), passed away on October 15, 2008.