Soldier made up story about Iraq

A U.S. Army Reserve major made up the dramatic story he told in an April 24 Wichita Eagle article about killing an insurgent in the Iraq war.

Officers in the U.S. military have also cast doubt on other parts of the front-page Eagle story. Maj. Chris Shaner acknowledges fabricating his story about killing the Iraqi insurgent, but insists that other parts of his story are true.

Shaner claimed in the story that in December 2006 in Baghdad, he chased down and killed an Iraqi insurgent who detonated a roadside bomb that killed U.S. Army Captain Shawn English. Shaner now admits he was not there, and the chase and shooting did not happen.

Months after the story was published, English's widow, Tricia English, saw the article on the Internet and called The Eagle to say Shaner's story was false, and that Shaner's claims had upset her and her three sons.

"He's a fraud," she said.

She said the Army calls what Shaner did "stolen valor," in using her husband's death to make himself look heroic. She wants the Army to look into whether Shaner violated Army regulations.

Lt. Col. Alex Fink, a deputy commander in the 89th Sustainment Brigade, the Wichita-based Army Reserve unit Shaner served in until he recently retired, said the unit is looking into the situation.

"To me and to my boys, there were a lot of heroes that day, but Chris Shaner wasn't one of them," English said of the day her husband was killed.

English provided The Eagle with the name of her husband's commanding officer in Iraq, Col. Doug Heckman. He said that Shaner was in the unit he commanded in Iraq, but that Shaner wasn't with the attacked convoy.

When asked about what Heckman said, Shaner at first insisted his story was true, and that he had been awarded the Bronze Star for shooting the insurgent.

But Shaner, now a teacher at Colvin Elementary School, later admitted in an e-mail that he had related an "imagined" version of events. He said he did it because he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of his Iraq experiences.

"I don't know what I was thinking at the time, how the subject even came up, what was going through my mind as you read it back to me (flashback?)," Shaner wrote in the e-mail.

He told The Eagle in an interview last week that he recognized that his fabricated story was harmful to English's family.

"I apologize to everyone who has been hurt by this, particularly Mrs. English and her family," Shaner said.

Shaner insisted, however, that another, longer anecdote that he told in the April 24 story — about an illness he suffered in a subsequent deployment to Iraq — is true.

But his version of events also is disputed by military officers.

In that anecdote, Shaner said that he was serving in Iraq again in 2010. Shaner's service record, provided by the Army, verifies he was in Iraq at that time.

Shaner said he was serving that deployment in a non-combat role, that he became ill with a pulmonary embolism on Father's Day, and that he was taken on an evacuation flight to Germany.

A nurse based out of Travis Air Force Base was on that plane and prayed a prayer to Father Emil Kapaun, a candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood, as she tried to save his life, Shaner said.

Travis Air Force Base officials questioned that account, saying doctors are primary staff on such flights, and that a doctor, not a nurse, would have treated Shaner if he were ill.

Shaner claimed he woke up on the airport tarmac in Germany with a chaplain giving him the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The chaplain's last name was Love, Shaner said.

Shaner said Love gave him a St. Christopher medal when Shaner was heading home.

Army records show Shaner was evacuated from Iraq to Germany in 2010. And there was a Chaplain Love.

He is the Rev. John Love, a Catholic priest who serves St. Mark's University Parish at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Love is also a California National Guard major and chaplain.

Love said he was stationed in Germany at the time Shaner said he became ill, and said he gave St. Christopher medals to soldiers. He thinks he met Shaner. But he said Shaner made up other details.

He referred further questions to California National Guard spokeswoman Maj. Kimberly Holman.

Holman studied the April 24 story with Love, and said, "He and I think he (Shaner) took a brief encounter involving the giving of the St. Christopher medal and blew it up into another story for more dramatic effect."

Eagle Editor Sherry Chisenhall said she regretted that the story slipped through the newspaper's fact-checking procedures.

"We report a great number of feature stories through the year. This is an instance in which we certainly wish we had done further verification and discovered this in advance of publication," she said. "This story received prominent play in The Eagle, and it's unfortunate we missed a step in our processes to prevent something like this from happening."