A friend called in March and told me, Youve got a fake Green Beret as your union president how do you feel about that?
This, according to Chuck Pfarrer, is how he first heard of claims, made by Writers Guild of America president Charles Holland, that Holland was a combat veteran and a former intelligence officer in the Armys Special Forces. Pfarrer, a guild member for 20 years, has credits on such films as Navy SEALs, Darkman and Barb Wire. He also knows a thing or two about Americas elite commando forces, having served in the 1980s as assault element commander for SEAL Team Six in places like Beirut and the Mosquito Coast. (For a while I was the only naval officer in America with a William Morris agent!)
Two red flags for Pfarrer were Hollands claim that federal law forbade him to divulge details of his service record and the fact that no one in the Special Forces community could locate that record. There were other signs.
Not one person came up and said, I was a Green Beret with him, Pfarrer told the Weekly in a phone interview from his home in northern Michigan. And you just dont go to Green Beret school while attending college. Its three and a half years of full-time training.
Holland, who declined to be interviewed and whose TV credits include the Navy-law drama JAG and Soul Food: The Series, first came under public scrutiny when a January L.A. Times article questioned his claims to have been a college football player and Green Beret. Much of the focus fell upon a 2002 interview in Written By, the guilds magazine, in which Holland presented himself as a Chicago ghetto hero who came up the hard way to attend Harvard Law School; he ultimately became president of the 9,000-member guild when Victoria Riskin was forced to resign in January because of questions regarding her own eligibility for office. Most guild members rallied behind Holland, whose contract-negotiating skills would be needed in upcoming talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Even before the Times article, however, the far-flung and oft-aggrieved network of veterans, former POWs and Special Forces organizations had already lit up with furious online chatter. It was one thing for Holland, who took ROTC in college and later became a National Guardsman, to claim to have been a football player and regular Army; it was quite another to insist he was part of such a small and tightly knit group as the Green Berets.
Indeed, unmasking military wannabes (or rather, wannahavebeens) is an ongoing obsession of service organizations, which post Walls of Shame and Phony Lists of thousands of men who falsely say they were Vietnam POWs, publicly wear decorations they have no right to, or pretend to have been in one of the Special Forces branches such as the Green Berets, SEALs or Delta Force. Although Holland didnt claim, in the Written By interview, to have been a wounded combat vet, word soon spread on the military grapevine that he had let this fact drop during meetings and parties, further upping the ante.
On March 7, Pfarrer faxed Holland a letter in which he said:
You and I both know that you are not a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Special Warfare. You and I both know you did not earn a green beret, attend the Intelligence Officers Course, or Airborne School. We both know that you have not served in combat. We both know that you were never wounded in the service of this country . . . Until you prove me otherwise, Mr. Holland, I will call you a coward. You have no credibility, sir.
If Pfarrers tone sounded stern, it was positively Bloomsbury compared to an e-mail sent to the WGA by retired Lieutenant Colonel Bucky Burruss, a founder of Delta Force:
I can declare without reservation that Charles Holland, president of the Writers Guild, is a lying phony who has not one second of service in Special Forces . . . I would be pleased to meet the bastard any place, at any time, and deliver him my best attempt at an old-fashioned ass whipping.
Pfarrer says he genuinely did not want to bring Holland down and would have become his defender had the WGA president made a clean breast and apologized.
If he pretended to be a rodeo clown or an LAPD SWAT member, thats fine, Pfarrer said. Id give him a party foul and let it pass. But dont be a Green Beret.
The next day, Pfarrer received from Holland a reply that stopped short of admitting any specific wrongdoing: It was a huge mistake to say what I did about my military background in Written By. I regret it, Im never going to say anything like that again and Im not going to discuss it any further.
Pfarrers second fax, expressing his dissatisfaction with Hollands reply, was met with silence. Then, on March 10, he warned Holland that several sources would, within 35 days, make public Hollands full military file. On March 18, the WGA announced Hollands resignation. (On March 22, an online copy of Hollands separation papers, purportedly obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed he was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in the Guard. There is no mention of his serving in the Special Forces.)
Pfarrer claims that hes completely apolitical as far as union politics go. Im up here in Hemingway country, he says. I couldnt care if Lassie were the guilds president I didnt even know who Charles Holland was.
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Pfarrer is busy these days promoting his autobiography, Warrior Soul, which details his derring-do exploits as a SEAL.
I regret his resignation, he says. It wasnt in the best interest of the union. The other thing that is a shame is that heres a smart guy who went to college and went to ROTC. He could have been a Green Beret, he could have gone to intelligence school, but instead he pretended to be a combat vet.
Pfarrer says he has no desire to pursue Holland further, although he may be alone there.
The veterans groups arent done with him, Pfarrer said. They want an apology. I eat things his size for lunch, but its not me Holland has to worry about. Its guys like Bucky Burruss hes going to come in with Hollands ears.