The parents of an Army private returned his local Red Cross Real Heroes award this week after they said they were told that he had lied about his service.
In the awards announced last month, Bryan Henn was portrayed as a corporal who weathered a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan serving as a combat engineer in IED detection and destruction. Half his squad had allegedly perished in an attack and Henn had purportedly received accolades, including a Purple Heart, The Californian reported in a photo layout about the award winners. The Red Cross was the source of the information.
His parents, Darryl and Darlene Cornett, had nominated him for the Real Heroes' military decoration and KGET Channel 17 profiled Henn last week.
But on Wednesday, Darlene told KGET, she received a call from Fort Carson in Colorado from a sergeant who had heard about the award and informed Darlene that her son's stories "were fabricated," the station reported Thursday.
"He said 'Ma'am, do you know that it wasn't true, all those stories?'" Darlene told Channel 17.
"No Afghanistan, no medals and no one lost in the squad that deployed without Bryan," Channel 17 reported.
The Cornetts appeared on television news again Thursday night -- this time to apologize for their son's lies.
"I believed it hook line and sinker and now I'm paying for it," Darryl said.
The couple returned the award and other certificates that Henn had been given as part of the honor. They also apologized to service men and women in their interview with Channel 17, with Darlene saying that Bryan "besmirched (service members') integrity and their honor."
"I can only apologize for the actions of our son. I hope they take that to heart because it's sincere from me and it's sincere from my wife," Darryl said in the interview.
The Henns could not be reached for comment Friday. The whereabouts of Bryan Henn weren't known.
Fort Carson officials said Friday that Henn is a private presently assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. They also issued a statement saying "no additional information is releasable at this time" because the issue is under investigation.
Garth Milam, board chair for the American Red Cross Kern Chapter, said Friday that this is the first fraud in the local awards' 11-year history.
The winners are typically picked by a selection committee that checks to make sure each entry happened in the appropriate calendar year and meets the criteria for the award, the chair said. The committee also attempts to check out the details of the nomination entry,sometimes looking for media coverage, Milam said.
Henn was the only entrant in the military category this year.
"He would have been the winner probably based on that, but in reality, our willingness to accept this was based on the genuine and appeared authoritative testimony of the parents," Milam said.
Milam said the Cornetts informed KGET News Director John Pilios of their son's falsehoods and Pilios in turn notified the local Red Cross.
"(The Cornetts are) devastated but they acted completely under good faith. They're wonderful people," Milam said. "They were duped as much as anyone, I am sure."
In a news story posted on the KGET website, Pilios expressed concern about being duped.
"It's very important for us to get this story straight, to correct this story on the air," he was quoted as saying.
The Red Cross board will meet next week to establish new guidelines to verify nominees' laurels, Milam said. He said he hopes this debacle won't cast a shadow on the good deeds of the other honorees.
"Any time you have something like this, then the people who actually were heroes are in some way devalued," Milam said.