Updated: Aug 6
MAJOR UPDATE: We are in direct contact with federal investigators and have provided our evidence to them. If you or anyone you know has been defrauded by these individuals they want to hear from you. You can contact us and we will connect you.
UPDATE: 4 August 2023: ABC11 News - Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville - North Carolina confront LtGen Walter Gaskin regarding the letter of recommendation for Stolen Valor perpetrator Billy Zinnerman. LtGen Gaskin admits to writing the letter, even though neither he, nor Zinnerman served in Desert Storm. View the story here: Stolen Valor | North Carolina military leader vouched for discredited veteran - ABC11 Raleigh-Durham
Watch the coverage aired by KGO News, ABC 7
Watch here: https://abc7ne.ws/44etrn3
The Montford Point Marines Association is an esteemed organization dedicated to recognizing the contributions of the first black men who served as United States Marines. Unfortunately, this noble cause was at risk of being tarnished by the actions of a fake Marine Sergeant Major named Billy Zinnerman. In this article, we delve into the case of stolen valor surrounding Zinnerman and shed light on his deception that threatened to undermine the association's mission. In addition to the Montford Point Marines, Zinnerman is also a member of the Marine Corps League, American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).
The Red Flags: L.E. Michael Johnson and Zinnerman: The first hints of deception arose when reports emerged regarding the embellishments made by L.E. Michael Johnson, the Western Regional Vice President of the Montford Point Marines Association. Johnson's minor embellishments were overshadowed by the more egregious fabrications of Billy Zinnerman. Zinnerman, who currently serves as the association's Public Affairs Officer and Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, claims a distinguished career as a Sergeant Major and Recon leader, even alluding to involvement in secretive black ops missions.
Unveiling the Lies: Upon closer examination, Zinnerman's claims begin to unravel. His alleged military accomplishments, including a Bronze Star with a combat device and a Purple Heart, are nothing more than figments of his imagination. Furthermore, investigations reveal that Zinnerman spent a significant portion of the time he claims to have been in uniform behind bars, according to official records.
To bolster his falsehoods, Zinnerman even went as far as falsifying biographical photos and documents, and submitted photos of actual Marines accompanied by claims that the photos were of him while in uniform. In the photos above, you'll see a Combatant Diver in one photo, but not the others. You'll the Navy Marine Marine Corps Medals in some, but not others. Read on to see how his web of lies were unwoven.
"The Marine Maker" Interview: Adding insult to injury, Zinnerman recently granted an interview to the online magazine "InMaricopa," aptly titled "The Marine Maker." In this interview, Zinnerman continues to perpetuate his fabricated military career, spreading false information to the public.
This photo was part of the Marine Maker interview. The caption reads "Sgt. Major Billy Zinnerman inspects incoming Marines while serving one of his multiple terms as a drill instructor at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. [submitted]"
The original photo can be found on DVIDS, as shown below. And as the DoD caption shows, it's actually a photo of a real Marine by the name of GySgt Rashaud Drayton, drill instructor, Fox Company, 2nd Training Battalion. (Drayton was a Sergeant at the time of photo)
The original photo of GySgt Rashaud Drayton can also be seen in this Marine Corps Times article link: Marines identify San Diego recruit who died from cardiac arrest (marinecorpstimes.com) Photo of the main page below.
Also, included in the "Marine Maker interview" is this photo of 5 Marines, with a caption of "Sgt. Major Billy Zinnerman with fellow Marines in Iraq during the early 1990s. [submitted]".
The problem Mr. Zinnerman has in submitting this photo is that the digital MARPAT pattern he is purportedly wearing didn't get issued until 2002. An authentic Force Recon Marine, CWO3 AJ Pasciuti who enlisted after the attacks on 9/11/2001 was in the first graduating class at MCRD to receive the new digital pattern. Had this been an authentic photo of Mr. Zinnerman in the early 90's, they would have been wearing the chocolate chip pattern desert cammies. Not to mention, they would also would not have had RCO's mounted on M4's. This photo is most likely an infantry unit in Afghanistan in the 2010's or perhaps Syria around 2015. If any reader can identify the Marines in this photo, we'd love to hear from them.
Update as of June 28, 2023: We have now confirmed that the photograph previously claimed by Billy Zinnerman to depict him during the first Gulf War actually features US Marine Anthony Stewart.
The Marines in the photo have been identified as follows, from left to right: Anthony Stewart, Patrick Beal, Zack Wilson, Joey DeGroot, and kneeling in the front is the late Alec Ross Tannenbaum. Alec Ross Tannenbaum served two deployments in Afghanistan, where he displayed remarkable courage and was honored with the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat. After his military service, Tannenbaum embarked on a career as a firefighter, serving with dedication at the Vails Gate Fire Department in New York, as well as working as a Federal firefighter at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY.
Tragically, Alec Ross Tannenbaum lost his life while bravely serving his duty on August 4, 2020. His selfless sacrifice will always be remembered. It is worth noting that Anthony Stewart, depicted on the far left of the photo, also received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained from an IED during his third deployment to Afghanistan.
Sincere gratitude to Marines Joe Uribe, William Berberan, Benjamin Martinez and others for identifying the Marines in this photo.
The inMaricopa interview and article can be found at this link: The Marine maker - InMaricopa
In the event the original is taken offline, you can download a copy at this link:
In this next photo, the fake SgtMaj is hanging his fake shadowbox while showing his fake smile behind his fake pride.
In these side by side photos, you can see that Mr. Zinnerman's awards changed post his "fake retirement". The addition of the Navy Marine Corps Medal, the combatant diver bubble, etc. We could find no records of a Zinnerman that Retired, earned the Purple Heart or the Navy Marine Corps Medal. The 2nd row is what he submitted when the author of this article asked him for a copy of his official bio photograph from 2002 when he claimed to be the SgtMaj for 3rd Marines. To the right of that is the actual bio page from 2002 of SgtMaj Tupuolo, the 3rd Marines SgtMaj from 2002 to 2004 at which point he was relieved by SgtMaj Smith.
Getting back to the "Marine Maker interview". In the interview, Mr. Zinnerman states:
“On my last tour,” “we were the next to ship out. We were in a valley and the helicopters were coming in and we were getting ready to hop on that gunship.”
Zinnerman was describing the Boeing Vertol CH-46, a medium-utility helicopter gunship specially developed for the Corps to support assault forces. It was often called the “egg-beater” by Marines.
As the helicopter neared and loaded Marines, the next few moments would haunt Zinnerman to this day. “The crew chief waves my platoon off,” Zinnerman said. “He didn’t have enough room and waved us off.”
Zinnerman and his platoon watched as the helicopter failed to gain elevation and crashed, killing everyone on board. Sand had gotten into the turboshaft engines of the helicopter and caused it to malfunction.
“I knew all 35 of those men on that gunship,” Zinnerman said. “And he waved us off.
“To watch that chopper go up and hit the side of the mountain … The first thing you think is to drop your gear and run up and see if you can save somebody.”
This again is a complete fabrication. There were no CH-46's that crashed in Afghanistan in 2002 killing 35 service members. The closest case to that was a CH-47 that crashed with 16 soldiers (not Marines) onboard. The 16 Soldiers were injured and thankfully survived the crash. For reference, in 2002, these are all of the aviation incidents in the region.
December 21: A German CH-53 helicopter crashed in Kabul, killing seven German soldiers.
December 19: A F-16A Block 20 MLU fighter overran a runway at Bagram airbase and landed about 500 meters away in a mine field. The Danish Air Force pilot was evacuated to a US Army hospital. The F-16A was recovered, repaired and returned to service.
August 13: (2) A US AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed about 20 miles south of Kabul. The crew survived. Another helicopter, a HH-60 was also reported lost the same day.
June 12: A MC-130H Combat Talon crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing three of the ten service members aboard.
April 11: An AH-64 Apache crash-landed outside of Kandahar.
March 18: A MH-53 Pave Low crashed during landing near Uruzgan province, three US servicemen suffered injuries. The helicopter suffered significant damage and was declared damaged beyond repair.
March 4: (2) Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters were hit by RPGs and gunfire during Operation Anaconda. Two were killed in the first helicopter, which was dropping off a SEAL team. The second Chinook came in later that day to try to rescue the crew of the first CH-47, and subsequently was shot down, killing four.
February 13: A MC-130P Shadow crashed in eastern Afghanistan. There were no casualties.
January 28: A CH-47 Chinook serial number 84-24174 crashed in eastern Afghanistan due to a brownout, injuring sixteen soldiers.
January 20: A CH-53E from HMM-361 crashed 40 miles south of Bagram air base killing two Marines on board.
January 9: A KC-130 Hercules from VMGR-352 tanker crashed into a Pakistani mountain, killing seven Americans on board.
It's tragic enough that Mr. Zinnerman fabricated a legacy of service, then went on to wear medals and a uniform that he did not rate. But Veteran Suicide, and PTSD is very real, and very personal to our servicemembers that have endured these tragedies. To falsify the grief, and prey on the emotions of the American people who care so deeply for our fallen and injured servicemembers is beyond comprehension.
Criminal/Public Records of Billy Zinnerman: These records were obtained through a public records search of the Los Angeles County Courts, the previous home of record for Mr. Zinnerman.
Important to note, that the middle initial of the subject of this article appears at times to be Billy R. Zinnerman, and other times Billy B. Zinnerman, or just Billy Zinnerman. Court records indicate the full name to be Billy Ray Barnes Zinnerman, and the birthplace of Crowley, LA, and the birthdate/age do match.
Mr. Zinnerman gained attention recently for his presence alongside Congressmember Maxine Waters at the Inglewood Memorial Day Commemoration. It is worth noting that Congressmember Waters has been seen alongside both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Zinnerman at various public events. However, it remains uncertain whether she is aware of their embellishments and misleading claims. During the event, he was presented with an award as part of the proceedings. To witness his speech and hear firsthand the details of his fabricated resume, I encourage you to watch the following video:
In the below photos, Billy Zinnerman served as the Guest of Honor for the 247th Marine Corps Ball - For the 6th Engineer Battalion, Bulk Fuel Company A, on November 5th, 2022.
UPDATE: June 26, 2023 - Mr. Zinnerman applied for City Council for the City of Maricopa, Arizona.
In the documents below, you'll see that Mr. Zinnerman further fabricated his resume on official government documents whereas he claimed he served as the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the UN Mission to Somalia and Ethiopia. Furthermore, he included a reference letter from persons that we can only conclude were not aware of his false claims, or perhaps the letters are not authentic. One reference letter came from none other than LtGen Walter Gaskin, the Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs for the State of North Carolina. It's our belief this letter is a forgery because LtGen Gaskin does not rate Gulf War Awards, and therefore could not have witnessed the action referenced in the letter - furthermore, records indicate that LtGen Gaskin was at University of Oklahoma in 1990/1992 earning his Masters in Public Administration. We will post updates as more information becomes available.
We would love to hear from Secretary Gaskin in regards to this.
UPDATE: June 30, 2023 - Photo below of LtGen Gaskin with Mr. Johnson, prior to the letter of reference in question. Note that in the photo, Mr. Johnson is wearing the Desert Storm campaign medals that he does not rate, and both LtGen Gaskin and Mr. Johnson are wearing civilian issued medals from the Montford Point Marines Association as part of their Hall of Fame program - which in essence is a recognition/gratitude program for supporters and volunteers. The face of the medal is embossed with the words "Medal of Honor".
Documents and Letter from LtGen Gaskin below
Since the writing of this article, we have been in contact with several veterans groups that are now in the process of removing Mr. Zinnerman from their roles, and all have expressed gratitude to the Wine Country Marines for exposing this threat to their organization and the hard work and values that they represent.
As for Mr. Johnson, we hope that he can learn from this and apply those lessons towards taking the necessary steps to protect the Montford Point Marines Association, and to protect his own reputation and the accolades that he did earn. For reference, here are photos of Mr. Johnson displaying awards. As you can see, the awards (post-retirement) have been inconsistent, raising questions. Gulf War 1 Medals in some photos, not in all, yet all photos are substantially after retirement and years after they would have been earned. It appears in photos dated 2013 and prior, the awards on the DD214 match the photos. But starting in 2014 additional awards not on the DD214 are present.
Mr. Johnson's DD214 is attached below, which was obtained through a FOIA request and is publicly available.
Here is a link to a video on YouTube - showing Mr. Johnson wearing 12 ribbons/awards, whereas the photos above show him wearing 14. Both took place post-retirement. Perhaps there is an explanation for this, you be the judge. Montford Point Marine Association, Michael Johnson, West Regional VP, Camp Lejeune, NC (32514) - YouTube
Here is a video of Mr. Johnson stating that he saved "a lot of people, evacuating them onto the ships, and also stated he went to desert storm". Which we know not to be a factual statement:
He goes on to state in this video that as a 39 year old Sgt, he "Commanded 14,000 Marines" during desert storm. "We went there, we came back and we survived." He goes on to refer to "coming home in Norfolk, VA, and being called a baby killer, implying that he served and fought in Vietnam, stating he did not kill any children, but simply protected his country and the people that were being oppressed" He goes onto to state that he protected the President of the United States and worked with the Ambassador to Saigon.
In this video, at the 12:36 mark, Dr. Tran tells the heroic story of a US Marine that carried her off the plane as she escaped Vietnam, and we salute Dr. Tran, her family and her fellow refugees, as well as the brave Marines that rescued them. But then she goes on to state "that perhaps Michael was that Marine, because as he said, he was there and he was doing that". Therein lies the problem - creating a false narrative or story not only creates confusion and dismay, but it runs a risk of tarnishing the true stories of valor that need to be told. While Mr. Johnson did serve, he did not serve on ship during the Vietnam war, or in country, and records indicate he did not rescue refugees. While it may be possible that he was stateside in an assistance role - that was not what his claims were. We're hoping Mr. Johnson can rectify or clarify this.
As we stated earlier in this article, the focus is on Mr. Zinnerman, but we sincerely hope that Mr. Johnson will also take steps to correct these misperceptions and bring clarity to his statements and service, the Montford Point Marines deserve no less.
The Impact of Stolen Valor: When individuals of questionable character align themselves with respected organizations such as the Montford Point Marines Association, the damage inflicted multiplies exponentially. Zinnerman's deception not only compromises the integrity of the association but also threatens to overshadow the important historical contributions of the Montford Point Marines themselves.
Preserving the Legacy: In order to honor the true heroes and educate the public about the invaluable role played by the Montford Point Marines, it is imperative to expose and address cases of stolen valor within the association, in fact within any organization exposing such deviations from the Honor, Courage and Commitment embodied by the Marine Corps only serves for the betterment of the organization. And, by doing so, the Montford Point Marines Association can reaffirm its commitment to preserving and commemorating this essential part of American history.
The case of Billy Zinnerman's stolen valor poses a significant challenge to the Montford Point Marines Association and its mission. It serves as a stark reminder of the utmost importance of preserving the integrity and authenticity of organizations devoted to honoring the unwavering sacrifices made by those who have served.
The Confrontation: Prior to publishing the article, I reached out to Mr. Zinnerman and Mr. Johnson to request an interview. This request was straightforward given that they had previously sought assistance from the Wine Country Marines in spreading the word and making contacts. In fact, Mr. Johnson himself stated, "Working Together Works," a sentiment that we didn't disagree with.
Initially, the purpose of the interview was to have a casual conversation and introduce them to ABC News, with whom we have a strong relationship. We scheduled the meeting for June 14th at 3:30 PM via Zoom and obtained consent from all parties to record the session. The recording was intended for ABC News to use.
The meeting commenced with the understanding that the President of Wine Country Marines would conduct the initial interview, with the possibility of ABC's Dan Noyes joining in at some point. Dan's role was primarily to observe and record the entire interaction.
To initiate the interview, I posed my first question to both individuals, inquiring about the nature of their relationship and how they came to know each other. Their response indicated that they first met in 1985 when Mr. Zinnerman held the position of Drill Instructor and Mr. Johnson served as a recruiter. This question held significant importance as it aimed to shed light on whether Mr. Johnson was either unaware of or an active participant in Mr. Zinnerman's questionable activities.
During my interview with Mr. Zinnerman, my second line of questioning aimed to explore the details mentioned in the inMaricopa article. In this line of questioning, I first asked "What does Semper Fi mean to you", to which he replied "Accountability". I then asked him about the photographs and requested confirmation that he was indeed the person depicted in them. Moving forward, we delved into his awards, focusing on the Navy Marine Corps Medal, which he claimed to have received in 1978 as a Lance Corporal at Kaneohe MCB while rescuing a person from a burning car. According to his account, he earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the first Gulf War when he sustained a knee injury by gunshot while operating a "laser thing used to paint targets." To clarify, I asked if he was referring to the MULE (Multi User Laser Engagement) system, to which he responded affirmatively. However, this question was intentionally designed to test his knowledge, as MULE is actually an acronym for the AN/PAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment. If he had been truly familiar with this equipment, he would have corrected my false definition rather than accepting it without hesitation.
I inquired whether he was acquainted with GySgt Rashaud Drayton, and he responded affirmatively, stating that Drayton was present in the photo I had referenced. It is important to note that this acknowledgment came after he had already acknowledged the content of it in the inMaricopa article, which explicitly mentioned his presence in the photo, as he stated, he was inspecting the recruits before the commanding officer's appearance. Clearly aware that his credibility was compromised regarding this particular photo, he chose not to contest it, prompting me to move on to the next photo. In reference to the second photo he claimed to be in, alongside four other Marines, I asked him to confirm his presence in it, and he once again affirmed it. I repeated the question for clarity, and he maintained that it was taken during the first Gulf War.
I confronted him directly, pointing out the inconsistencies in his claims. I specifically mentioned that the rifles, scopes, and uniforms he described did not exist in 1991. I made it clear that the uniforms were not issued until 2002, and the rifles were not introduced until 2010. In response to this revelation, he was left speechless and did not contest or dispute the information.
I also confronted him directly regarding his assertions of being on the Drill Field, serving as the 3rd Marines SgtMaj, and witnessing the helicopter crash mentioned in the inMaricopa article. Despite his insistence on being a Drill Instructor in 1985, he had no response when I pointed out that he does not appear on any class rolls or photos from that time. Regarding his claim about the SgtMaj billet, I challenged its plausibility by highlighting the fact that no SgtMaj starts their career directly at the Regiment level, and I presented him with the 2002 bio photo of the actual Regimental SgtMaj for the 3rd Marine Regiment who assumed the office in 2002. Additionally, I pointed out the impossibility of him being with the 3rd Marines in Afghanistan in 2002, as the unit did not deploy to Afghanistan until 2008.
When he claimed he couldn't provide an explanation, yet insisted on his innocence, we presented him with the criminal reports obtained from the LA County Jail. In response, he dismissed them, asserting that his record had been a result of stolen identity and that he had taken steps to have it removed. However, it is worth noting that the occurrence of stolen identity multiple times seems highly improbable, as does the notion that the Sheriff's Office would consistently imprison the wrong individual. Furthermore, the record remains intact to this day.
Mr. Zinnerman raised concerns about the legality of accessing his records, asserting that they were the result of stolen identity. Additionally, he contested the legality of retrieving his "military records." In response, both myself and Dan Noyes firmly emphasized that these records are, in fact, public records and their accessibility is within the bounds of the law. Mr. Zinnerman went on to ask "what's my game here, why am I doing this", to which I repeated his answer to him, of what Semper Fi means - accountability. I told him that the Montford Point Marines have earned our respect and deserve our very best, to which he agreed.
After the interview, I reached out to the National HQ of the Montford Point Marines Association to report the situation. I provided them with the specific details of the case, and they assured me that they would promptly address the matter and will take appropriate action.
There are undoubtedly further developments that will unfold in the future. Dan Noyes is actively working on follow-up segments for the story, and we have extended an invitation to Mr. Zinnerman, giving him the opportunity to submit any pertinent information he believes both we and the public should be aware of. I did emphasize to him that all doubts could be swiftly resolved if he simply reaches into his pocket and presents his government-issued CAC card bearing the designation "SgtMaj Retired." I assured him that if he were able to do so, I would retract all previous statements and publicly issue a sincere apology.
Moving Forward and Healing: Embracing the Legacy of the Montford Point Marines As we actively work towards rectifying this regrettable situation, it is crucial that we do not allow Zinnerman's deceit to tarnish the illustrious legacy of these brave Americans in any way. While his actions stand in stark contrast of the unwavering dedication and sacrifice displayed by the Montford Point Marines. We can take this opportunity to learn more about their remarkable history, to uncover their stories of resilience and triumph, and to honor their legacy through telling their stories and making visits to the monuments erected in their honor.
Take the time to learn about the courageous individuals who shaped the Montford Point Marines, such as SgtMaj Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson. He served in the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and was present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. Another notable figure is Sgt Dan Bankhead, who served as a US Marine from 1942 to 1946 and became the first African American pitcher in Major League Baseball. Additionally, Captain Frederick C. Branch holds the distinction of being the first African American Officer in the Marine Corps. Their stories and many others reflect the extraordinary contributions made by these trailblazers.
By engaging with their rich legacy, we ensure that the true heroes of the Montford Point Marines are never forgotten, and their extraordinary contributions continue to inspire generations to come. It is through our collective efforts that we honor their bravery, resilience, and unwavering commitment to justice.
For the Montford Point Marines Association, this undoubtedly presents a challenging situation. However, if their namesakes can overcome the civil rights battles of a segregated military and a divided nation, they can undoubtedly weather the actions of a couple of rogue individuals who put themselves before the mission. The organization was founded with the purpose of memorializing the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. Stolen Valor cases such as these are not new, and history has shown that other organizations have flourished even after such discoveries among their ranks.
With their legacy of courage, tenacity, and a proven track record of fighting for what is right and just against great odds, the Montford Point Marines will undoubtedly navigate this situation with strength and integrity. They will address the actions of these individuals while upholding the values and principles that define their association. The Montford Point Marines have faced adversity before, and through their resilience, they will continue to preserve the legacy they hold dear.
As we move forward and heal from these incidents, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to honoring the true heroes of the Montford Point Marines. Together, we can ensure that their legacy endures, inspiring future generations to embrace courage, perseverance, and the pursuit of justice.
UPDATE: JULY 7, 2023 18:00
We have obtained copies of Mr. Zinnerman's DD214, including both the original authentic copy and the fraudulent version he submitted to multiple organizations in order to obtain membership benefits. In the photos provided below, you can clearly see the distinction between the two versions. The first image depicts the self-submitted version that Mr. Zinnerman presented to various organizations, with the lower half redacted, as he included with his submissions. On the other hand, the second, third, and fourth images represent his genuine DD214 documents.
Based on the images presented above, it becomes evident that Mr. Zinnerman's claims of being a SgtMaj in the Marine Corps, his retirement status, and his entitlement to prestigious awards such as the Purple Heart, Navy Marine Corps Medal, and other ribbons and medals are entirely false. Furthermore, his assertions of having been deployed to Grenada, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan are completely unfounded. In fact, apart from completing basic training and undergoing minimal military instruction, Mr. Zinnerman's military record consists solely of unauthorized absence, subsequently upgraded to AWOL (Absent without Leave), followed by confinement, a reduction in rank, and a discharge for Other Than Honorable Service. It is important to note that despite Mr. Zinnerman's denial, our initial reporting stands firm.
To provide a clear visual representation of the stark contrast between Mr. Zinnerman's false claims and the actual reality, we have included the following graphics. These graphics unmistakably demonstrate Mr. Zinnerman's exaggerated claims of holding the highest rank and receiving numerous awards, while in reality, he never rose beyond the lowest echelons of military service.
In addition to Mr. Zinnerman's disgraceful actions regarding his false rank, awards, and military service, he sank to an even lower level of dishonor. As depicted in the provided photograph, he audaciously attended the funeral of a genuine Montford Point Marine, SgtMaj Archie Lee Robinson, who was a legitimate combat veteran and held the rank of SgtMaj.
To make matters worse, Mr. Zinnerman had the audacity to stand by SgtMaj Robinson's casket while wearing his fraudulent medals and ribbons. This act represents the ultimate disrespect and dishonor. Not only did Mr. Zinnerman deceitfully appropriate the valor earned by a Montford Point Marine, but he also went as far as fabricating documents to infiltrate the organization and attended the funeral on December 23, 2018. Such actions are reprehensible and deserve condemnation in the strongest terms.
Following our initial exposé on Billy Zinnerman, we have received both threats and expressions of gratitude from various organizations that were infiltrated by Mr. Zinnerman. One such group, the Marine Corps League of Arizona, has conducted their own investigation based on the evidence we provided and confirmed all of our allegations against Mr. Zinnerman. Consequently, they have expelled him from the organization, for which they expressed their gratitude.
As of today, after being confronted by local groups that learned of Mr. Zinnerman's fraud through our investigation, and provided copies of his original DD214, Mr. Zinnerman now acknowledges that he received an Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge and was a PFC (E-2), not a SgtMaj (E-9). But he has made statements that he still rates his medals and awards.
Regarding Mr. Johnson, he has acknowledged and apologized for his actions, admitting that he wore unearned medals. While he initially attempted to dismiss it as a misunderstanding or misspeaking, he has since fully recognized his wrongdoing and pledged to improve. We have shared all our evidence with ABC News, who have engaged in several conversations with Mr. Johnson. These conversations can be viewed on the ABC 7 News website, and we will provide the link once it becomes available.
Regrettably, what began as an investigation into one individual has expanded to include two additional confirmed cases of stolen valor within the same organization. The first is Mr. Zinnerman, who falsely claimed the rank of SgtMaj, the second is Mr. Johnson, who falsely wore medals as an SSgt. Now, we have identified SgtMaj Charlie Cook Jr., the current President for the Western Region encompassing 12 U.S. states, as another case of stolen valor. During our conversations with Mr. Johnson, he mentioned SgtMaj Charlie Cook Jr.'s position, prompting us to search for his contact information. Our search led us to discover several photos of SgtMaj Cook serving as the keynote speaker at the City of Long Beach inaugural Memorial Day Commemoration this year, on May 28th.
Upon examining the photos, the first discrepancy noticed was SgtMaj Cook wearing the French Fourragere as a retired Marine. As a veteran of 3/5, I am aware that once one leaves the unit, they are no longer authorized to wear the Fourragere. To verify my understanding of the Uniform Code in relation to this, I referenced MCO 1020.34H v2, specifically page 1-130, which explicitly states that the Fourragere is authorized for active-duty Marines serving in approved units. You may download the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations below to review this information.
While examining SgtMaj Cook's photos, we discovered additional discrepancies that raised concerns. Firstly, we observed that he appeared to have three Presidential Unit Citations (PUC) in one photo, where he is depicted as a SgtMaj with seven hashmarks. However, in another photo with the same rank and number of hashmarks, there were no PUCs present. This raised suspicions as it would be highly improbable for an individual to serve consecutively in three units, each earning a PUC, within such a short period of time that a hashmark would not be added to the uniform.
In the same photo, we noticed that SgtMaj Cook was wearing the Vietnam Gallantry Medal in ribbon form on his dress blues, along with his medals. It is important to note that on dress blues, medals are worn on the left side, while ribbons are worn on the right side, and only ribbons without corresponding medals are worn. The presence of the Gallantry Medal in ribbon form, along with the absence of the Combat Action Ribbon (CAR) that would typically accompany valor awards, raised further concerns.
We provided these photos along with our explanations to Mr. Dan Noyes from ABC, who had scheduled an interview with SgtMaj Cook to discuss the ongoing situation. According to Mr. Noyes, SgtMaj Cook admitted to the act of stolen valor and expressed embarrassment. However, he attempted to shift the blame to the vendor, claiming that he did not notice the inaccuracies and relied on them to provide him with the medals he supposedly deserved.
We find this explanation unacceptable, particularly coming from a SgtMaj of Marines. It is especially disheartening as SgtMaj's are expected to embody the highest standards, enforce them, and possess an understanding of proper military decorum.
In the provided photos below, you will see the issues with the awards as we have described. The first photo is a side-by-side comparison, where the PUC is visible in the left photo but absent in the right photo, despite the rank and hashmarks remaining the same. In all three photos, you can also observe the Vietnam Gallantry Medal displayed on the ribbon bar.
It is disheartening to learn that SgtMaj Cook admitted to Mr. Noyes that he never saw combat and does not rate the awards he claimed. However, it is important to acknowledge SgtMaj Cook's service, retirement, and attainment of the rank of SgtMaj. These alone are significant accomplishments that less than 1% of Marines achieve.
Upon reviewing SgtMaj Cook's Together We Served Profile, it is evident that he included the Combat Action Ribbon and the Vietnam Gallantry Medal, which are not justified based on his admission. This discrepancy raises concerns regarding the integrity and accuracy of his profile.
It is noteworthy to mention that a concerning pattern seems to emerge within the Montford Point Marines Association, particularly in the leadership of the Western Region encompassing 12 states. SgtMaj Cook holds the position of Western Region President, Mr. Johnson serves as the Western Region Vice President, and Mr. Zinnerman serves as the Western Region Public Affairs Officer and Scholarship Committee Chair.
You may review SgtMaj Cook's profile for further examination and consideration.
SgtMaj Cooks Memorial Day speech can be viewed below. You can skip to the 28 minute mark to hear his introduction and speech. It's worth noting that in addition to the unrated medals and ribbons, the Fourragere is installed on his uniform improperly.
In the original posting, we stated that after confronting Mr. Johnson and Mr. Zinnerman, we immediately called the National Public Affairs Officer for the Montford Point Marines Association to inform them and provide an opportunity for resolution. During that call, we spoke with MGySgt Joe Geeter, who acknowledged Mr. Johnson and committed to taking corrective action. However, almost four weeks have passed since then, and Mr. Johnson is still listed as the Western Region Vice President on their website, although he did inform us that he is stepping away.
Regarding Mr. Zinnerman, Mr. Geeter expressed uncertainty about knowing him or confirming his membership but assured us that he would investigate and remove him promptly if necessary. It is worth noting that Mr. Zinnerman is visible in photographs from the National Montford Point Marines annual convention for two years, and he was even presented with "The President's Award" on one occasion. Furthermore, a review of social media posts reveals that Mr. Geeter had been tagging Mr. Zinnerman and Mr. Johnson in posts over a period of four years.
The Montford Point Marines face a challenging task ahead, and we are willing to assist them if they permit us to do so. The legacy of the Montford Point Marines is far too important to the United States to allow this type of behavior to go unchecked.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we have provided all of this information to the FBI, and they have informed us that they have assigned two agents to this case.
As updates become available - we will post them here.