Dave Groves, a West Jordan man who has been honored by the Veterans Administration's Salt Lake office and the University of Utah as a decorated Vietnam vet and prisoner of war, did indeed serve his country, but never in Vietnam, according to his Army personnel record.
The record, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows David Jennings Groves, now 67, was drafted and entered the Army in Sante Fe, N.M., and spent two years, Dec. 7, 1962 to Dec. 9, 1964 at Fort Bliss in Texas.
Afterward, he briefly was in the Army Reserves and then served in the Army National Guard from Dec. 29, 1964 to Nov. 11, 1966. His highest rank was specialist.
Groves had Army training as an automotive repairman, and received standard commendations for a stateside soldier during the war: a National Defense Service Medal, and a marksman badge with rifle and carbine bars.
Terry Schow, executive director of Utah's Department of Veterans Affairs, said the record is clear. "I draw from this that he never left stateside, never was in Vietnam, never was in the Special Forces and never was a POW."
Groves has made such claims, and told a University of Utah interviewer in 2000 that he had more than a half-dozen awards for valor.
"We have to stand up and say, 'Sir, with all due respect, you should not have done this,'" said Schow, who served with the 5th Special Forces in Vietnam.
Groves did not answer his phone nor return a reporter's call seeking comment Wednesday.
Previously, Groves, speaking through his wife, Fran Groves, called suggestions that he was lying about his military record "entirely false and defamatory."
The couple hired an attorney after questions arose about whether he deserved to be honored at an annual VA luncheon for former POWs. Stories and photos of Groves ran in The Tribune and other media after the April 13 affair.
Groves said at the time that he was held captive by the North Vietnamese for six months after his unit, part of the Army's 5th Special Forces, was ambushed. He said he was the only survivor of the ambush, and escaped with other U.S. servicemen, spending two weeks in the jungle before they were found by a Marine patrol. He said he had worked for the West Jordan City street department for many years.
The VA said in an April 25 statement that Groves has been on its list of former POW invitees for a number of years, and was honored several times at luncheons, which are co-sponsored by the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA refused to answer questions about how the VA comes up with its list of former POWs to invite, how Groves came to be on the list, and whether he will be invited again.
"Privacy laws prevent us from releasing any other information in connection with Mr. Groves," the VA said in its statement, provided by spokesman James Brown.
Schow said that while his department co-sponsors the luncheon, "We have relied on the lists that the federal VA has." He will suggest that Groves' name be stricken.
"It's my understanding that he has never applied for VA health care or benefits," Schow said.
Former Vietnam POW Dale Osborne of Salt Lake City said Wednesday that although he doubted Groves' claims, he was surprised the man didn't even go to Vietnam.
"It makes me sick. It really does. That guy is out there going to all these functions, wearing these medals and telling these stories. I wonder why the VA is so lax," he said. "Somebody tells them something, they believe it."
Another former Vietnam POW, Jay C. Hess of Farmington, was on the committee that issued the invitations based on the VA list.
"My gut feeling is that the VA has people on their list who are not POWs and that their philosophy is 'Well, we would rather care for somebody ... than not treat someone who might be,'" he said. "I think they are kind of generous in the position they take."
The University of Utah also honored Groves in 2000 at its annual Veterans Day celebration, where, wearing a dress uniform with medals and green beret, he shared the spotlight with nine other men praised for wartime heroics. The program for the U. event and a short biography still displayed on the U's Veterans Day website says Groves was awarded three Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and two Crosses of Gallantry.
That information came from an interview the university conducted with Groves before the event, Keith Sterling, spokesman at the U, said in April.
"It behooves all of those in the recognition business to check the bonafides," said Schow. "Check their DD214s (service records held by veterans.)"
But Mary Schantag, chairwoman of the Missouri-based P.O.W. Network, said that's not enough. "Do not take a DD-214. There are too many forgeries out there."
Nonetheless, checking out the claim of former POW status is easy, she notes. The Department of Defense has a website listing former POWs by war.
It's the medals for injury and valor that are harder to track down because there is no master list, something Utah 3rd District Congressman Jason Chaffetz, burned last year on a case of stolen valor, is proposing.
"I want there to be an easy, simple way to verify that somebody earned the medals they claim they earned," said Chaffetz. "It's trust, but verify."
Vietnam War POW database
See the Department of Defense database of POWs and those missing in action during Vietnam War: dtic.mil/dpmo/vietnam/reports.