An American WWII veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his courageous role in the infamous D-Day invasion has confessed to inventing the whole story.
George G. Klein, 96, has for decades been celebrated as a war hero who bravely took part in the American invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944, with the elite 2nd Ranger Battalion.
There were 225 men in the battalion, and only 90 survived the battle, according to The Telegraph. Klein claimed to be one of those survivors.
According to his original account, Klein climbed over 100-foot cliffs and battled with the Germans before being stabbed with a bayonet. He then had to wait two days to be evacuated from the battlefield.
In addition to the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, Klein was awarded the Legion of Honour by France.
The Telegraph reports that the D-Day Overlord association raised over $4,700 to bring Klein to France this year to celebrate the battle's 73rd anniversary. They described him as "one of the great celebrities" of the war and said he signed "hundreds of autographs," "marking all those he met by his incredible kindness."
While he was in France, Klein suggested that he wasn't a real hero because he didn't sacrifice his life.
"I'm not a hero," he said. "The real heroes are those who have lost life here."
But upon his return to the U.S., Klein stunned his family and friends when he admitted that he had not been involved in the D-Day invasion at all. He said he was in Northern Ireland at the time with the 46th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Infantry Division.
Klein's belated confession reportedly came after "American veterans in the same unit as George Klein confirmed [to historians that] he was with them and hadn't taken part in the fighting at the Pointe du Hoc."
Marc Laurenceau, head of the D-Day Overlord association, told a French newspaper that Klein didn't land in Normandy until July 1944.
"I'm in contact with his family with whom I have become friends," Laurenceau said, according to The Telegraph. "They are devastated. So are we, as we believed his story. We put in a lot of effort to get him to Normandy."
He added that Klein's story passed muster because of his "impeccable attention to detail," as well as the fact that he had been a Ranger at one point, but broke his ankle during training and had to leave the unit.
As for why his name was not included on the list of Rangers who were actually present in Normandy, Klein explained that he had been brought in at the last minute as a "supernumerary" lieutenant.
But in spite of the "sad story," the D-Day Overlord association clarified that Klein should "not be ashamed of his real contribution to the liberation of Europe," especially considering that he was seriously wounded in November 1944.
"Trapped into a lie that shaped him in the eyes of his entourage and from which he could no longer escape, he finally resolved to tell the truth," the association said.
Veterans of the Second World War are now in their 80s and 90s, and are rapidly disappearing. The National WWII Museum of New Orleans states that of the 16 million Americans who served in the war, approximately 558,000 are still alive in 2017.