Soldier lied about enlisting in Army to honor dead son

COLUMBIA -- A Fort Jackson soldier featured in military articles was lying about enlisting to honor a son killed in Iraq.

The soldier, Pfc. Doug Saunders, 39, of Nevada, did not have a son die in combat, said Pat Jones, deputy public affairs officer at Fort Jackson.

Saunders' story was published in the Fort Jackson Leader on Oct. 11 and he later was profiled on the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Web site. However, Army officials discovered Saunders had fabricated the story about a son's death after The State newspaper requested interviews with the soldier.

Now, Army officials cannot say whether Saunders even has a son.

"For me, everything in the article is suspect," Jones said. "We just don't know."

Saunders graduated from basic combat training in mid-November and is stationed at Fort Lee, Va., where he is training to serve as a supply specialist, Jones said. Any decisions to discipline Saunders will be made by his commanders at Fort Lee. The soldier will remain in the Army, Jones said.

Efforts to reach Saunders were unsuccessful.

The Fort Jackson Leader will publish a retraction of its story, Jones said. The weekly newspaper is published by the Camden Media Company, but all articles are written and approved by the Fort Jackson public affairs office.

The story's author and supervisors in the public affairs office will not be punished, Jones said.

"Evidently, the guy's charismatic because he had everybody believing him," Jones said.

In the story, Saunders said his son was a 20-year-old infantry sergeant killed in July 2006 by an improvised explosive device in Tikrit, Iraq.

Saunders also said he went on a three-month drinking binge because of his grief, but then sobered up and enlisted.

In the Leader article, Saunders and his son had different last names, but the soldier later told commanders he had divorced and the boy had been adopted by his stepfather, Jones said.

There were other errors in the article.

Saunders had said he would deploy to Iraq once he finished training as a military policeman. However, he is going to be a supply specialist.

Fort Jackson had his hometown listed as Lake Tahoe, Nev., while Fort Lee officials said records show he is from Reno.

An Army spokesman at Fort Lee said commanders of the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade are investigating the allegations against Saunders before any disciplinary action is taken.

Saunders has not offered an explanation of why he would make up the story, Jones said.

"Privates have been lying since there were privates in the military," he said.

Jeffrey N. Rose, a Columbia therapist and Air Force veteran, said the Army should do psychiatric testing on Saunders.

"They should certainly be looking into why he would be seeking that kind of attention," Rose said.

As for the nature of Saunders' tale, at least one member of the American Gold Star Mothers can't fathom why anyone would lie about the death of a child in combat.

Mary Jane Kiepe, national president of the association for parents whose children have died while serving the military, said anyone who has suffered such a loss wouldn't use it so lightly.

"It's a mockery, especially to young parents who have lost their sons and daughters," she said.