Fake Seal seeks to raise “billion a year” for vets
A reporter typically gets a half dozen charity solicitations each day in the email, and most go to the trash. This one a couple weeks back caught my eye because of one phrase: “WWII Navy Seal.”
Earl Littman, fmr Navy Seal (Team 1 !) has a new mission.
He has a plan to raise 1 billion every year. This is just kicking off.
As everyone knows, Navy Seals are the toughest of the tough, heroes who rescue the heroes who get in trouble, the guys who killed Osama Bin Laden. Seals are mythical supermen with superpowers.
As many people don’t know: they started Sealing in 1962 – about 17 years after the end of WWII.
Before the Seals there were the frogmen, the underwater demolition teams, which did indeed begin training circa 1942. The frogmen are the fathers of the Seals. They are not Seals, but some confusion is inevitable, and a WWII UDTR team member could be forgiven if, for the sake of simplicity in modern times, he called himself a “WWII Seal.”
He could, that is, if there was a record of him completing UDTR training during World War II.
Turns out that record is easy to check.
So many people falsely claim Navy Seal credentials that for 20 years there has been detachment who run a web site called VeriSeal. The helpful people there spend their days running names and dates through a database of every person who has completed the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal) or its predecessor, UDTR (Underwater Demolition Teams Replacement) training course. They are very busy.
I emailed VeriSeal Earl Littman’s name and age, which he gives as 86. Then I read the rest of the solicitation Steve Thomas of Results First Publicity sent. It was extremely heavy on narrative and light on detail:
Earl Littman, WWII Navy Seal wants to raise $1 Billion annually with what he calls a 2 cent solution. Earl is a fun, entertaining, and very spry 86 year old patriot. He is an excellent speaker and helping veterans and their families is his mission. He is unstoppable as ever as he lets the world know about his biggest mission yet. He needs to get the word out (through the media – you) so he can get major organizations to sign on.
Continuing the this-is-a-great-story theme, Steve explained that Earl (pictured here, from his LinkedIn profile) had founded a 501(c)3 called Back Our Vets which would endeavor to collect (with the customers’ permission) 2 cents from everyone at every point-of-sale, and use that to feed hungry vets, “provide help and shelter to homeless vets, working with the mentally ill, help fight drug and alcohol abuse, work to prevent suicides, counseling military families on how to combat abuse to spouses and children, help to accelerate the benefits to which the servicemen and women are entitled, providing education and skills to the veterans and their children.”
A tremendous list, as anyone could see. But, surely, a bona fide Navy Seal could do it. Seals can do anything!
(I could find no record of a “Back Our Vets” in Guidestar’s database of non-profits)
Under “other topic ideas,” Steve listed:
-Confessions of a Navy Seal
-A Navy Seal’s Last Mission
-From 2 Cents to 2 Billion, How One Former Navy Seal is Healing the Wounds of Our Soldiers
I called Steve’s number. It reached a cell phone in the hands of Jess Todtfeld, who explained that he was in New York and that Earl was walking right toward him! In short order I got the Great Man on the phone. He says:
“I think I’m the only person in the whole USA that has a simple common sense solution to raise a billion dollars, two cents at a time. Would you be interested in me explaining any more?”
How could I not be?
Littman claims to have “vetted” 36 organizations to get the money he plans to raise. “It is just mandatory that we don’t treat our vets like we treated some from Vietnam.”
I ask about his time in The Big One. He says he was part of “Navy Seal Team 1.” “We were referred to as the secret combat naked warriors,” Littman explains. “We were not referred to as Seals until President Kennedy announced that we were going to the Moon and we were going to have these special forces teams called Seal teams, Sea-Land, but we have called ourselves that ever since…
“Secret combat naked warriors—and very few people knew what we were. We’re really not allowed to talk about where what how we did things.”
Still very hush-hush, don’t ya know.
Littman says he did 14 missions between 1944 and the end of the war in August, 1945.
None of this is true, according to VeriSeal, which could find no record of any Earl Littman in BUD/S or UDTR records.
I asked Littman to send information about his non-profit, starting with its incorporation papers. He emailed me a week later saying the state of Texas had not yet sent those papers to him. (He also asked which of three linked videos looked and sounded best. In them, he appears with the Seals-only Special Warfare insignia (AKA “The Trident”) signifying his elite status. I picked the one in which he says:
“I was in Team 1 of the original Navy Seals…as a navy medic I experienced people falling down with wounds and some falling down forever.”
I asked Littman for his military discharge records, and also got no reply. I emailed him notice that VeriSeal had found no record of his alleged Seal service either. I expect no reply to that either.*[see update below]
Now, some would ask, why is it relevant? Isn’t the real issue all our homeless vets and the like? What harm is it if an old man gilds his past a bit, if it’s for a good cause?
Well, charities run on trust. If the founder tells a whopper at the outset, why should anyone pitch in even two cents?
Indeed, Littman—who really does seem to have a sales background—has been flogging this idea at least since last summer. The Houston Chronicle ran a Q&A on “Back Our Vets” in August of 2012.
Littman did not claim to be a Seal then. But the relevant law had just been struck down: Until a few years ago, falsely claiming to be a Seal was a federal crime. The law, called the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, followed a book (“Stolen Valor”) by B.G. Burkett & Glenna Whitley. They found hundreds of charlatans fraudulently living off their invented heroism. Just like Rick Duncan.
But the act was ruled unconstitutional on June 28, 2012. It is anyone’s right to falsely claim to be a war hero & wear a bunch of dime store medals. (As long as you don’t try to trick people into giving you money).
So I’ll let Littman himself have the last word on why it matters. In our phone talk, he told me about moving to New York after his military service, going into the ad business and then leaving the big city. “I did not like the morals of the business community,” the old fabulist said. “I wanted to work with people who would be honest and straight.”
UPDATE: Mr. Littman did email back late last night:
The only possible way that you or anyone else can check my service record is to see if the Pentagon will release confidential and secret information on the 100 members of the “secret combat naked warriors” during the period of 1942 through the end of 1945. Upon discharge we were sworn to never tell for the rest of our lives; “what, when, where , why or how” we performed our duties. It was suggested we not try to stay in touch with one another as we might talk about our missions which was taboo.
This is a version of the most popular fake Seal argument: that all his records are sealed/lost and that his missions are all still secret. This is one of those movie myths that won’t die, according to this “how to spot a phony Seal” primer. (It is one of several easily Googled):
4. When asked for names, places, dates, etc., the wannabe says it’s top secret, still classified.
I asked why he suddenly decided to start wearing the Trident, and Littman followed with a second electronic missive.
When I contacted the retailers to invite them to participate starting last winter and signed off as U.S. Navy medic I got absolutely no response. Zero, nada, zilch.
I decided then to come out of the closet and experimented by adding the U.S. Navy SEAL medic, and it was like turning on an entrance sign to the pot-of-gold. Not that I have gotten any retailers to sign-on as yet, but it has helped stir-up interest. I then decided I will still retain my sworn secret vow, but let the world know I served as a SEAL medic in World War ll with a mission to BACK-OUR-VETS and their families. Some SEALs that were absolute strangers have approached me and we have had honest conversations, yet I have never broken my vows, and they immediately understood my position having been aware of the past “secret combat naked warriors.”