Fact Check

Shunned Serviceman

Rumor: A serviceman in uniform was refused service because the establishment's owners didn't support the U.S. military.

Published April 7, 2003


Claim:   A serviceman in uniform was refused service at a convenience store or restaurant because the establishment's owners didn't support the war in Iraq.


Example:   [Collected via email, 2003]

I have been holding out on sending out this e-mail until I had all the facts verified. I now know this story to be 100% true. Wild Wings is a restaurant in Hilton Head. They have restaurants in Charleston SC, Mt. Pleasant SC, Marietta GA, Athens GA, Charlottesville VA, and Greenville SC as well.Also, they are preparing to go national. Last weekend (the weekend of March 22, 2003), five Marines from the Beaufort air station went to Wild Wings as numerous Marines frequently do on the weekends. This time, they were asked to leave. They were not drunk. One of them does not drink at all, and the others had not started drinking yet. When asked why they had to leave, the response was "We do not support the war, and your presence here is a disruption."

I heard this last week, and have been bighting my tongue until I could verify this. I have not only verified this 100% with one of the Marines I have known for a couple of years, but the story has grown. Word of
mouth spread the story quickly on this island as well as the local military bases. One of the civilian employees of the Beaufort Air Station actually called the local radio station and the DJ broadcast the story. Needless to say, business was off at Wild Wings last week.

What might the owners response have been? Would they apologize? NO! In fact, they did the opposite. They called the CO of the Beaufort Air Station demanding an apology from the Marines for causing their business to drop by spreading this story! The CO decided that Wild Wings did not deserve an apology. Nor did it deserve any more Marine dollars. Wild Wings is now off limits to the Marines of Beaufort Air Station.

I have always been very wary of spreading stories I heard on the internet. However, I know this one to be true. I heard it from the source.

There are people out there who do not support this war. I am well aware of that. However, if you do not support the members of our military, you do not deserve the freedoms they fight to protect. You do not deserve to run a business in this country. You do not deserve to profit in this country. And, since without our military you would not have freedom of speech, you do not deserve to express an opinion in this country.

I hope that each of you will consider this story before you spend one dime in a Wild Wings establishment.

Erik Smith

Origins:   The preceding tale began circulating on the Internet in March 2003, but it is only one expression of a rumor that has appeared in other towns, where it is also told as a true, local, and recent occurrence.

In late March 2003, Duluth, Minnesota was a site of another blossoming of the "serviceman refused service" legend, one that became so widespread that it was reported as true on WDIO, a local television station. (WDIO retracted the story the next night.) The Duluth News Tribune was innundated by the tale as folks called and wrote to ask about a particular Canal Park restaurant they'd heard had turned away a U.S. Marine in uniform, the restaurant being the kind of funky place folks against the war might frequent. In another version, several Army reservists in uniform were said to have been somehow dishonored at another trendy Canal Park eatery. In still another iteration, someone in a military uniform was verbally abused in the Target parking lot.

Jim Heffernan, a writer for the Duluth News Tribune, asked readers who could prove any of the incidents being described had actually taken place to contact him, put him in touch with the serviceman who had been turned away, or at least give him the serviceman's name. A week later he penned a followup article stating no one had come forward.

As for the Hilton Head, South Carolina, version of the legend, we spoke to the manager of the Wild Wing Cafe about the rumor. He said the story was "a complete lie" and that "we support our troops 100%", adding that they'd "had a group of 15 Marines in just the other night." He provided us with a copy of the denial the owners of the establishment have circulated to those who have asked about the rumor. Because it's incredibly lengthy, we won't quote all of it here, but here are some key excerpts from it:

There are a number of ridiculous claims in this e-mail. There is no ban on Wild Wing Cafe according the CO of the base. There was no radio story. And most importantly WILD WING CAFE SUPPORTS THE PRESIDENT, THIS MILITARY ACTION, OUR COUNTRY AND THE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN WHO RISK THEIR LIVES TO DEFEND OUR FREEDOM.When this rumor first began last week we talked to our staff and found that there was an incident in the past week or so where a handful of Marines, male and female (not in uniform) came to our door after ten PM. One of the young men did not have an ID to prove him to be 21 or older. He was refused entrance. His companions went inside for several minutes and left him outside. As they left they were very vocal about us "not letting in their friend because we were against the war." We believe that this incident was the genesis of this rumor.

Over the years Wild Wing Cafe has been proud to be supportive of the community. We have sponsored your teams and schools, your kids and their organizations. Now we are asking for your support. When someone tells you that Wild Wing Cafe won't serve the military as a protest to this war, tell them in no uncertain terms, that is a lie.

During our conversation with the manager of the Wild Wing Cafe, he described another recent incident which could also have been the starting point for this rumor. Five guys not in uniform but sporting buzz cuts, and one with his arm in a cast, left the Big Bamboo Cafe (the bar across the street) without paying their tab. The bartender there telephoned Wild Wing and asked them to be on the lookout for those fellows. The fivesome came into Wild Wing, whereupon the bartender told them about the abandoned tab across the street and said he'd call over to Big Bamboo to see if it couldn't be straightened out. While he was making the call, the five young men disappeared.

It's possible either of the two incidents being described could have touched off a yarn about servicemen being shunned by those rabidly against the war with Iraq. These are emotionally charged times, impelling many to perceive slights where none exist or to misparse events so as to transform a Marine turned away for not presenting a valid ID into someone given the boot by folks vehement in their opposition to the war. So many of the rumors of our times are the result of honest mishearings, misunderstandings, or misrememberings of real events or accounts of them that this type of shift — especially when fevers are running high — is almost to be expected.

We expect many more communities to be visited by the "shunned serviceman" story before it fully runs it course. It is, after all, the sort of shocking tale those angered by the anti-war movement will find great comfort in because it vilifies those who decry the current military action by presenting them as being against not only the war, but also against the men and women who are willing to risk their lives in the service of their country.

Barbara "slight readjustment" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 January 2015

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