PORTLAND, Ore. - A Portland man has been honored around the state and country as a war hero, lectured school children about his valiant acts, and local and national veterans groups have praised him for years.
But his claims of valiancy are all lies.
A months-long KATU News investigation uncovered the truth about Lafayette Keaton’s military service, revelations other veterans called appalling.
Each year the 80-year-old Keaton hosts the Vincent J. MacDonald Chapter of the 11th Airborne Division Association to honor men and women who were liberated from the Japanese in World War II by the 11th Airborne in a daring raid in the Philippines at Los Banos.
While in front of the association he’s never claimed he was at Los Banos, but several publications have reported that he was there. Those publications include The Rap Sheet, the newsletter of the Portland Police Association; the Ranger Register, the official publication of the U.S. Army Ranger Association, and a brochure of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. In those publications Keaton is trumpeted for his role at Los Banos.
Additionally, Keaton told his tales of heroism in Korea and Vietnam to students in high schools across Oregon including Milwaukie High and Redmond High.
In one picture Keaton is wearing the Silver Star above his left breast pocket that he says he won in Korea for an act of heroism.
“I asked the guys to give me their grenades and stuff and ran and threw (the) grenades at the Chinese to alert them that they were being attacked,” he recounted to a reporter.
Several publications celebrated Keaton’s three tours of duty in Vietnam as an advanced reconnaissance scout with the Rangers.
He said he saw a lot of combat in Vietnam and lost a lot of friends there.
“I have nightmares, and I wake up and I know I’m home,” he said.
Keaton was honored last year in Atlanta as the 2009 Airborne Man of the Year for his service during World War II and for helping to liberate the Los Banos POW camp.
At Sunset High School in 2006, he described to students what Los Banos was like.
“The bullets were hitting the tanks, ding, ding, ding, bouncing off,” he said.
The facts, however, blew holes in his story.
According to Keaton’s driver’s license he would have only been 15 during Los Banos.
To that Keaton said he’s been misunderstood.
“I wasn’t there. They may have heard me wrong, but I wasn’t there.”
As for his claims he joined the military right after World War II he said “I was stationed in Japan, 46, 47, 48, 49.”
But his military record from the National Personnel Center shows that he joined in 1952, not in 1944, 1946, or 1950.
Keaton said the date on the military record was wrong.
As far as his service in Korea, the record shows he did not serve during combat; instead, he went to the country in 1954, a year after both sides fought to a stalemate.
In an interview with a KATU News reporter, Keaton admitted that he was never in combat and did not win the Silver Star.
When asked to show when he served in Vietnam – when his military record says he only served a matter of days each year in the reserves – Keaton admitted he never went to the country.
When asked why he has lied for so long, he responded: “Once it starts it doesn’t stop.”
He also admitted that he was never an elite Army Ranger even though it says so in his military record.
While being interviewed by a KATU News reporter, Keaton wore the Ranger patch on his uniform, but according to officials from Fort Benning – where Ranger training is completed - there was no record that Keaton ever trained there as a Ranger.
“I’m not a tabbed Ranger, but I did recon,” Keaton said. A “tabbed” Ranger is a badge awarded to those who have completed Ranger training.
Repeated questions about why Fort Benning had no record of him were answered only with silence.
At one time he claimed he was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic pistol team. He admitted that was untrue as well.
He admitted he’s been a fraud for years and that there are a lot of people he needs to apologize to.
In addition to his lies, Keaton has just been indicted on voter and Social Security fraud, accused of stealing the identity of his dead son and dead brother.
But that’s not all.
In 1960 he was convicted of endangering a child. In 1972 he was convicted of kidnapping a toddler he fathered, but he got that conviction expunged.
In the 1980s, he was sent to prison for taking thousands of dollars from the state for creating a fictitious foster home. Up until that time he worked as a juvenile parole officer.
It was then Keaton began rewriting his history.
Now when people like Jim Innis - who was at one of the yearly celebrations of the 11th Airborne Division Association - hear the truth about Keaton, they say they’re appalled.
“It’s detestable; it’s criminal; it’s grossly unfair to all their comrades,” Innis said.
In 2006 Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act which made pretending to be a war hero a federal offense.
After KATU’s investigation brought Keaton’s falsehoods about his military record to light, the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland said it is going to take a close look at what has been uncovered.
- Court document: Keaton indicted for voter fraud
- Court document: Keaton charged with Social Security fraud
Listen to Lafayette Keaton speak about his war-time experiences at Sunset High School in 2006: