- Associated Press - Thursday, April 7, 2011

OAK RIDGE, N.C. | Well before he became commandant of North Carolina’s only military boarding academy, William Northrop regaled people with stories of serving in the jungles of Vietnam.

But his war stories may be pure fiction. There is no record Mr. Northrop ever served in the military, let alone Vietnam.

Mr. Northrop, 66, left as commandant at Oak Ridge Military Academy last fall after just a few months on the job, the same day a parent formally asked school officials to look into his background.

He refused to discuss his past or explain the discrepancies in his record to an Associated Press reporter. The academy’s president would not discuss Mr. Northrop’s background either.

If his claim of wartime service proves false, it will be the latest and one of the most audacious to emerge in recent years, and comes as the courts grapple with the constitutionality of a 2006 federal law that makes it a crime to pose as a war hero.

The academy, with an enrollment of about 125, had hired Mr. Northrop to oversee the cadets even though there had been long-standing suspicions about him, including a 1998 book on military impostors, “Stolen Valor,” that pronounced Mr. Northrop a “pretender.”

Mr. Northrop claimed in a 1992 book profiling veterans that he served as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam and Laos and also saw duty with the Israeli military. He provided intimate stories about life in the war zone and told the author of “Saigon to Jerusalem” that the experience still haunted him. Oak Ridge’s archives, which Mr. Northrop helped develop, likewise say he served with the Army in Vietnam.

In response to a request from the AP, the National Archives said it could find no record of Mr. Northrop’s military service after extensive searches and a check with the FBI.

Mr. Northrop’s account of being wounded in the February 1968 battle of Lang Vei also doesn’t match military records. Official accounts said 24 Americans were involved and 10 were killed. Mr. Northrop isn’t named in those accounts, nor is he on a roster of Special Forces personnel from that time.

The Israel Defense Forces also couldn’t confirm any record of Mr. Northrop, and “Stolen Valor,” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley, cited numerous inaccuracies in Mr. Northrop’s war stories and his supposed service record.

Mr. Northrop told an AP reporter that he left Oak Ridge to work on a business opportunity, not because of any questions about his credentials.

“I’m not running for president. I’m not explaining anything,” he said. He warned a reporter to “be careful.”

Oak Ridge, a college preparatory school about 100 miles northwest of Raleigh that was founded in 1852 and bills itself as the second-oldest military academy in the country, has struggled recently. A few years ago, it was unable to pay its employees or its creditors. And a coach resigned last month after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of diverting money for his own use.

Cuyler McKnight, who was Oak Ridge president when Mr. Northrop was hired, said Mr. Northrop was working as a volunteer in the academy’s archives office when the two met in 2009. By the middle of 2010, the academy needed a commandant, and Mr. McKnight thought Mr. Northrop, a 1962 graduate, would be good for the job because he clearly cared for the school.

Mr. McKnight said he learned of concerns about Mr. Northrop’s background only after he left as president in September.

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