Tampa Bay Times
June 10, 2016
TAMPA — As he has for the last decade, the old Marine stood ramrod straight at the Memorial Day ceremony, a gunnery sergeant's stripes on the sleeves of his dress blue uniform, rows of ribbons on his chest signaling a host of medals for heroism in combat.Retired U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Wayne Ridgley is the center of attention during a Memorial Day ceremony on May 30 in Tampa. Ridgley wears ribbons that he did not earn and the stripes of a gunnery sergeant.CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES
He brought his arm up in a slow salute as men and women attending the ceremony at American Legion USS Tampa Post 5 walked toward him carrying wreaths to honor those who died in war. The veterans saluted back. The civilians looked on with admiration.
But under a canopy, one veteran seethed.
"He's not a Gunny," said Gerard Abbett, using military slang for the rank on the Marine's sleeve. "He didn't receive any Silver Stars."
Abbett, who was wounded in Vietnam and received two Purple Heart medals, was right.
A check of his military records shows Wayne Ridgley, 68, never was a gunnery sergeant, never received any Silver Stars, and served only 14 months — not long enough to earn the 20 years worth of hash marks on his sleeve.
He is, however, a war hero. He lost a leg in Vietnam, received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with a V device for Valor, and was medically retired as a corporal.
Confronted with his real military record, Ridgley acknowledged his misrepresentation to the Tampa Bay Times, saying he did it to make himself and others feel that he was more important. He said he knew he would get caught someday. He said he won't do it again.
"I was enjoying it," Ridgley said. "It felt like I was somebody and I did it for a long time. I got a crazy notion in my head that maybe if I carried myself like this, I'd feel like a strong guy. One of the best ranks in the corps is gunnery sergeant. I lost it and kind of went looney over it."
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