He cut an impressive figure in his Army dress blues and his high and tight haircut.
His uniform bore the medals and awards of a war hero: Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a Ranger Tab, Master Jump Wings.
Telling folks he was a command sergeant major in the Army, he made his way around various VFWs and American Legion posts in west-central Minnesota. While a generally accepting sort, several people began feeling like something was amiss.
Now 55-year-old Richard Arthur Rahn is behind bars in Kandiyohi County, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Local authorities are forwarding their investigation to a federal prosecutor for possible action against Rahn for fraudulent use of a military uniform, insignia or medals.
Willmar police recently reported receiving a number of complaints about a Willmar resident posing as a highly decorated, noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army. According to the complaints, the individual appeared in uniform at various events and claimed to have served in the Army Rangers.
On Aug. 9, for instance, he showed up in this uniform at the Olivia VFW for the KMS Memorial Ride, an event honoring five local men who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He told those gathered there that his name was Command Sergeant Major Richard Rahn of the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. With a pair of sunglasses perched on top of his head, he posed in uniform as people snapped his picture.
But the pictures revealed that things weren’t as he claimed.
Numerous awards were out of place and out of order, including his Bronze Star and Purple Heart. At least one badge probably hadn’t been awarded since the Vietnam War.
‘He didn’t look right’
Tracy Clark was there that day. Her son, Ryane, who died in Afghanistan in the Army, was one of those being honored by the ride. She remembered that many felt there was something off about Rahn as he talked to other Gold Star moms about his battlefield experience, all while chewing on a toothpick. A cousin of hers who was former military knew right away that he was a poser.
“I went back to my husband and said, ‘He is really weird and he needs help,’ ” she said. “He didn’t look right. He just talked about being overseas. I kind of let it go. We’re kind of numb on our ride. We’re just hoping to get through the day without breaking down and then there was this guy showing up.”
Someone later contacted the national organization, Guardian of Valor. Its mission is to expose people who falsely claim military service.
A check with the Ranger Regiment confirmed that they have no record of Rahn ever belonging. In fact, there was no record that he ever served in the military.
Local police became involved when they learned that he had been convicted of burglary in Florida and was in possession of at least one firearm, a violation of state law. A search warrant was executed at Rahn’s Willmar home last week and a firearm was recovered. Police then searched a storage unit west of Willmar and seized two additional firearms and a U.S. Army dress uniform, with medals and insignia.
Stolen valor can be a crime
It’s called stolen valor. After more than a decade at war, posers claiming to be military heroes have proliferated, but prosecuting them for their fakery has become more difficult since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that simply lying about military service was protected speech under the First Amendment.
But people who go beyond that can face trouble with the law. Last year, President Obama signed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 into law, making it a federal crime for an individual to try to profit from fraudulently claiming to be a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals.
In Cass Lake, Minn., three years ago, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Honor Guard gave Elizabeth McKenzie a blanket and an eagle feather to honor her as a woman warrior for her service in the Army in Afghanistan. There was a tribal drum ceremony and a reception line. McKenzie talked about the close calls she’d had and a war injury that brought her home. She led the march in the high school gym, carrying the American flag. The local newspaper documented her hero’s return.
But McKenzie was never injured in combat, had never been to Afghanistan, never been deployed anywhere. In fact, she’d never been in the military. She pleaded guilty to impersonating an officer.
In Kalamazoo, Mich., the head of a local charity is defending himself amid allegations of embezzlement and faking military honors.
A South Carolina man is facing a maximum of 15 years in jail after he pleaded guilty to lying about military-related injuries and obtaining benefits meant for wounded veterans.