By Miriam Raftery
April 25, 2018 (Santee) – In the latest round of claims that Assemblyman Randy Voepel has inflated his military record, audiotapes and transcripts from two California legislative hearings last year reveal Voepel speaking of being in “heavy combat” in Vietnam and serving with the “Tiger Battalion.”
Military records indicate Voepel served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Buchanan, but do not indicate that he was involved in any ground or river combat.
Our search found no unit called Tiger Battalion. Voepel may have been referring to Tiger Force, an Army infantry unit, or possibly the Tiger Division of the South Korean Army, which did serve in Vietnam.
In an Assembly floor hearing on September 5, 2017, Voepel stated, “I served in Vietnam with the Tiger Battalion and when they went into an operational 7area, the Viet Cong took a vacation. Seriously, all combat in that area would cease. Because the Koreans were so fearless and such good killers of communists, they just left the battlefield, the enemy did” Hear his statement on this tape, at 3:08 minutes into the recording.
Was Voepel trying to curry favor with Korean War veterans at the hearing by claiming he served with Koreans in Vietnam?
Or perhaps, he was referencing Tiger Force, an elite U.S. Army battalion whose members were accused of numerous war crimes in Vietnam including torture, executions, rape, and scalping prisoners.
In the book Tiger Force, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists from the Toledo Blade detail how the group “went on a horrific seven-month rampage” of crimes “buried by the army for decades” according to the book description on Amazon.com. No one was held accountable for those actions, one of the Pulitzer winners wrote in the New York Times in 2017.
There is, however, no evidence that Voepel was ever with the Tiger Force, or the Korean Tiger division.
In addition, during an Assembly standing committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on April 25, 2017, Voepel stated, “So when I was in Vietnam, in heavy combat…” This remark can be heard at minute 23:10 on this tape.
Also see screenshots (above right and below left) of transcripts from these two hearings, provided by Digital Democracy, further documenting Voepel’s claims of participating in heavy combat and serving with the Tiger Battalion:
In addition, Vietnam veteran Rob Nelson has stated that during an El Cajon Tea Party meeting, he heard Randy Voepel boast of serving combat tours on river patrol boats, after officials were asked to talk about their military experience. Nelson states: “Randy said he did 2 combat tours on river patrol boats. I was impressed how he was able to survive 2 tours when many of river boat crew members didn't. When we talked one on one I told him that the Agent Orange exposure killed more of us than combat. He said he was immune to the stuff and had no effect.”
The accusations that Voepel has engaged in “stolen valor” and inflated military claims have been made by Retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Terence Hoey and Navy Seal Larry Wilske, a Republican challenging Voepel in the June election, as ECM reported.
Hoey first raised claims that Voepel has been photographed wearing a combat Action Medal, upside down, that military records obtained by Hoey through a Freedom of Information Act request indicated were not among medals awarded to Voepel. Voepel staff later circulated a document to media that showed a corrected form listing the medal. Hoey has said that the DD-214N form was altered, though the San Diego Union Tribune and Los Angeles Times both reported that military records they obtained did list the medal. A photo of Voepel wearing the medal has since been removed off his Facebook page.
Lying about certain military medals, including the Combat Action medal, is a federal crime as well as a state crime. A California law requires that any state official found guilty in federal court on stolen valor charges must be removed from office—and interestingly, Assemblyman Voepel was an author of that bill that is now state law.
Even if Voepel won the medal as claimed, and the strike-throughs on the form he sent to media were corrections of a clerical error, there are still serious questions about his potential misrepresentation of other aspects of his service.
Hoey has accused Voepel of also wearing a small craft insignia, which looks like this:
Below are two images showing Voepel wearing an item resembling a small craft insignia. Voepel’s office has not responded to our request asking whether Voepel received this medal, though a staffer indicated photos were “blurry." Hoey fired back, "Voepel's staff is lying and being disingenuous when they say that the photo of the Small Craft Insignia (Voepel sitting at desk) is blurry, it came from Voepel's very own website."
Below is a cropped image of the insignia worn by Voepel, side by side with the small craft insignia:
Following revelations on the Assembly tapes, Hoey told ECM, "We are still holding back on more devastating information on Voepel, however as we have said from the beginning, Voepel is a Valor Thief and in this case we show proof positive tha he is and has been lying about his military record with respect to his claim with Tiger Battalion.”
ECM has asked Voepel’s office why the Assemblyman spoke of serving in the Tiger Battalion, an Army unit, and in heavy combat when his Navy records indicate that he did not. Thus far, we have not received a response.
In addition to Voepel and his Republican challenger Wilske, Democrat James Elia, an accountant, is also in the race for the 71st Assembly District.
San Diego has the highest number of military veterans of any county in America, and East County has the highest concentration of veterans in our county, as well as many active duty military members. So, the outcome of the 71st Assembly District race could well hinge on stolen valor claims—and the integrity of Assemblyman Voepel in his representation of his military record.