Marines investigating NC man they say posed as highly decorated officer at military ceremony

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — A man who pleaded guilty last year to altering an identification card after he was spotted in the uniform of a three-star Marine general is under suspicion of posing at an April ceremony as a highly decorated Marine colonel, authorities say.

Michael Hamilton, 67, of Richlands wore a Marine uniform at Jacksonville's Vietnam Memorial during a military recognition day ceremony last month, Marine investigators said this week. Authorities added Hamilton was photographed wearing several rows of medals including the Navy Cross, the second highest award for valor.

Investigators from Camp Lejeune said they searched Hamilton's house on April 26, two days after his picture was published in the Jacksonville, N.C., Daily News. An evidence report said they recovered a blue dress uniform blouse with seven service ribbons and 18 medals. The report didn't specify the medals recovered.

It is a federal offense to claim or wear military decorations, punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine.

Hamilton has not been charged and the investigation is ongoing, said Maj. Nat Fahy, a spokesman for Marine Corps Installations East.

"Those handling the investigation are trying to be as thorough and deliberate as possible before turning it over to the Special Assistant U.S. Attorney," Fahy said.

A man who answered Hamilton's home telephone said Thursday evening that he refused to comment. The man, who also refused to give his name, claimed to be Hamilton's brother.

Hamilton told the Daily News April 26 that he served in a covert unit that worked in Laos and Cambodia and that he was sworn to secrecy. Hamilton refused to provide any documents supporting his claim. "As far as every medal that I have been awarded, every ribbon, they're mine; and I'd give them all back for the 286 men I lost," Hamilton told the paper.

In a biography distributed at the April ceremony, Hamilton claims he was promoted from private first class to colonel between 1961 and 1969 and was awarded 80 medals, including two Navy Crosses. An affidavit filed by investigators with the search warrant said the highest rank Hamilton attained was private first class.

Hamilton only served nine months and was discharged in February 1962, according to the affidavit. It said his only decoration was a rifle qualification badge.

John Cooney, the adjutant of the Beirut Memorial Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, attended the ceremony in April and was shocked that Hamilton was the guest speaker.

"We've known he has been a phony since 2007," said Cooney, 69, who served two tours in Vietnam.

Hamilton was investigated in 2007 for wearing the rank of a three-star general and altering a military identification card, according to court papers. He pleaded guilty to altering the identification card in 2009 and was sentenced to probation for six months, records show.