..but I told the truth about it.
On a sultry day in July 2008, Marine Sgt. David W. Budwah strode in his battle fatigues to the front of a picnic pavilion to tell three dozen young boys what he did during the war.
With his clear gaze, rigid posture and muscled, tattooed arms, Budwah looked every inch the hero he claimed to be. He said he was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when a homemade grenade exploded, wounding his face and arm when he dove to shield a buddy from the blast.
He urged the boys, ages 9-12, to take pride in themselves, their country and its warriors.
"We're here to make sure of the freedom you have every day," Budwah told his audience at Camp West Mar, a wooded American Legion compound about 60 miles northwest of Washington.
Spencer Shoemaker, then 10, was so impressed he had his picture taken with Budwah and kept a treasured newspaper clipping about the visit.
"What he said made me feel like I wanted to join the Marines," Spencer said.
But the Marines say Budwah is a liar, a fraud and a thief. They are court-martialing the 34-year-old Springhill, La., native, alleging he was never in Afghanistan, wasn't wounded and didn't earn the combat medals he wore - or the many privileges he enjoyed.
Budwah joined the Marines in October 1999 and spent nearly all of the next six years with a radio communications unit in Okinawa, Japan, according to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., where Budwah has been stationed since February 2006.
Back when I was stationed at Homestead AFB, I thought about wearing a few of my dad's old WWII campaign ribbons for an open ranks inspection, but I guessed correctly that colonels have no sense of humor.
What could I tell thses kids? "I bravely drank Romer Pilsner on Kaiserstrasse in defense of my country."