Civilian Impersonating An Officer

I was watching the Beverly Hillbillies (I have nothing else to do…LOL)

Anyway Jethro sees Mrs Drysdale’s nephew get women just because he’s an officer in the Air Force. So Jethro goes out and buys a General’s uniform. (“If he can get all those girls being a Lieutenant, imagine how many I’ll get as a general”).

The nephew says “Jethro do you realize what you could get for wearing a General’s uniform”

Jethro also does this on a few other occasions with the same joke, “Do you know what you can get for wearing that uniform?”

So my question is, in real life what can a civilian get for impersonating an officer in the US Armed Forces. Does he get the same or similar thing for impersonating an enlisted man?

No idea at an answer, but to add to the question: wouldn’t it make a big difference whether he only does it in civilian context to pick up girls (small or no crime) compared to marching into a base and ordering soldiers around (big crime)?

I’m pretty sure costanze had this in mind, but here’s the requisite reference to Wilhelm Voigt, who not only pulled this off, but got exonerated for it, and made a career or replaying it on stage:

Here is one case I found.

Here is another one. From 1917.

There is also the Stolen Valor Act of 2005for those falsely posing as war heroes.

So yes there are various state and local laws. My fu is weak and I can’t find them all.

Ah, the Hauptmann von Köpenick. Actually, I hadn’t thought of that at all, only of the current situation in the US. The Hauptmann von Köpenick is considered more of two moral lessons:
Don’t drill soldiers to obey the uniform because that leads to abuse
Don’t put people into no-escape situations like Voigt (who couldn’T get a passport without work, and couldn’t get work without a passport, which is why he wanted the town hall in the first place. That he prepared so poorly and took the wrong city hall… Another factor in his decision was probably that in his time, in Prussia, the uniform was the highest thing, because the military was so highly revered. The guys who couldn’T or hadn’t served in the military joined some club - Schützenverein, Feuerwehr - to wear their private uniforms.

But in today’s Germany, no normal person considers a uniform to be a chick magnet, or military anything honorable or proud or that nonsense, therefore nobody would try impersonating an officer unless trying to break into a base for nefarious purposes.

The unauthoriized wearing a military uniform is a fed crime. You could get into trouble if you were to wear a proper uniform to a costume party. One of the Midshipmen at the California Maritime Academy ended up in trouble because he removed the state buttons from his uniform and put on Navy buttons, and he removed the CMA from his high pressure hat just leaving the anchor. He was lucky, the SP just brought him back to base suggested he change the uniform back or stay on base. They also informed the duty officer. The next week at 8 o’clock formation the academy had a lawyer there to explain what could have happened. And we got the explaination again in our Naval Science classes.

Huh. Colour me surprised: according to Wikipedia, it is forbidden to wear uniforms in Germany unless you have a reason:


Since it’s doesn’t increase attraction of girls in anyway, there’s little reason to wear uniforms in Germany. Given the fashion among teenagers to wear camouflage jacket or pants (from used US Army equipment shops) to school, or fans of e.g. the Stargate series wearing USAF uniforms when roleplaying, I wonder how many people know this law, and how often it’s enforced in any way.

Federally there are two main statutes covering this.

10 USC Sec. 771 states:

Note that the UL about purposely making something wrong with the uniform in movies is proven wrong in this statute. Having one mistake is not enough when it is illegal to wear even part of the uniform. However it is addressed later when it says:

In reality I doubt anyone would be prosecuted unless they violate 18 U.S.C. § 912 which covers impersonating an officer for personal gain. You are not going to get arrested for wearing a uniform as a Halloween costume.

Thanks for providing the actual Law, Loach. Could you please explain a bit more: this USC you cited - is that Federal law, or Military law?

And what’s the bigger context of the subsection about not wearing the uniform unauthorized? Because the German criminal code § 132a StGBI quoted above is the paragraph about misuse of titles, profession names and insigna. The first parts cover not mis-using doctor titles and similar if you don’t have a degree, and not calling yourself a priest/shrink etc. if you aren’t.

What’s the context of your section? In the earlier linked news report, the article was all about the “honor” of the military being damaged if “unworthy” people wear uniform (???).

I also wondered about Karneval - or Halloween, as the next similar thing in the US: kiddies wear Sheriffs uniforms, adults wear priest habits etc., yet nobody thinks of being arrested by the police. Yet I can’t find anything about exceptions like this in the law itself. Since IAMNAL, maybe it’s in the annotations. I guess roleplaying falls also under this exception, or at least I hope so.

Under military law, specifically the US’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, the impersonation of rank or grade is punished under a specific article of the code that deals with impersonating a commissioned, warrant, non-commissioned or petty officer. If done with fraudulent intent it is good for a dishonorable discharge and three years, otherwise a bad conduct discharge and six months, which is special court martial stuff.

I’ve only seen this happen once and that was a warrant officer who claimed to be a captain as part of his scheme to bed a young woman. It happened off post and he made no attempt to exercise any of the powers and privileges of the claimed rank. He just wanted to get laid. I thought the base commander was being a bit vindictive in sending the thing to a general court martial.

I suppose that the wearing of unauthorized uniform or badges is punishable as a disobedience of orders since all that stuff in prescribed in regulations. This would include, for instance, wearing jumper’s wings and ranger patches or insignia of grade for lower ranking enlisted member and specialists (a Specialist Fourth Class in not the same thing as a Corporal).

USC is the United States Code, or the general code of federal law.

We’ll have to keep the UCMJ in context as it does not apply to civilians.

I am however glad that Loach posted the actual law and what it says. So many people with so many variations of what it really says. But, it’s not obviously enforced as i have seen many vet’s wear their old uniforms but have their ribbons upside down or some other alteration like that. So, technically, they are wrong.

Casual use of the uniform such as wearing it as a costume or just as clothing does fall under 771 but it is not enforced and is unenforcible. There are plenty of places wear you can legally by uniforms. As long as you are not trying to pass as something you are not then there will be no problems.

The context is that people wear the uniforms or parts to be something they are not. There have been many cases of people pretending to be SEALs or Green Berets or claiming to be fucked because of Viet Nam. It does besmirch the honor of those that wore the uniform for real. If you can not see that as an honor and can only talk about it with scare quotes around the word then it is not a concept I can explain.

The second statute I cited (912) is a more serious crime. It is for impersonating for monetary gain. It also includes pretending to be a government official of any kind.
And yes these are Federal statutes. Military law (UCMJ) does not apply to civilians except in certain circumstances in regards to contractors and Department of Defense civilians.