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Questions Emerge About the Vietnam Vet Status of Nathan Phillips

Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial

Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, canceled classes on Tuesday due to security concerns arising after a weekend incident at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — and questions continue to swirl regarding the complicated story.

There are concerns being debated right now about race relations in this country — and about people making snap judgments about other people without knowing a story’s full facts, then backtracking on the positions [1] they took on social media (actress Jamie Lee Curtis was one who admitted she spoke too soon).

There are also questions about whether or not Nathan Phillips — the Native-American activist who approached the MAGA hat-wearing Kentucky teenagers as they waited for a ride back home after the March for Life rally — is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Many people and media outlets have said the man is a Vietnam vet.

Note his own description of himself in comments to CNN this weekend: “Here’s a group of people who were angry at somebody else and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I’m the one who — all that anger and all that wanting to have the freedom to just rip me apart — that was scary,” Phillips said, in part, during an interview [2] on Saturday. “And I’m a Vietnam-times veteran, and I know that mentality of, ‘There’s enough of us. We can do this,'” he added in the interview, using careful phrasing.

Many are describing Phillips as a combat veteran who served the country in the Vietnam War.

Some celebrities [1] and politicians repeated the claim as well, including presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and defeated Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D).

In multiple news accounts, the activist’s age is noted as 64.

Using age 64 as a baseline, in 1973 — the last year American combat units were stationed in Vietnam — Phillips would have been 18 years old, as mentioned in The Washington Times [7]. Though that’s technically possible, combat service becomes less plausible given that Phillips has said he is a Marine veteran.

The last Marine combat units left Vietnam in 1971.

Phillips is described as having served in the Marines from 1972 to 1976 in a Wikipedia page [8] reference about him. The Washington Post recently ran this note about his background, appended to one of its pieces: “Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native-American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976 but was never deployed to Vietnam.”

He himself has said he’s a Vietnam-era veteran or “Vietnam-times veteran.” The Wiki page, as of this writing, notes that “numerous news agencies have erroneously reported that he was a Vietnam veteran. He described his role as ‘recon ranger.'”

During the oft-mischaracterized face-off in D.C., Phillips approached high school junior Nick Sandmann, [11] who was standing with his peers. Phillips, who was beating a drum as he walked toward the teen, continued to beat the drum inches from the teenager’s face as Sandmann continued to stand, smile and say nothing.

The teen said later he was confused as to why he was singled out; he said he also perceived that adults might be trying to use teenagers for their own ends.

The face-off happened so quickly and many details remain unclear. Sandmann, together with his peer group, was waiting for a bus back home when the encounter occurred.

Prior to Phillips’ movement toward the teens, a separate group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, a black nationalist cult, had been hurling racial and sexual slurs at the boys, many of whom were wearing red Make America Great Again hats. The group was calling them “crackers,” “children of incest,” “dirty,” and other foul content not fit to print.

Phillips now apparently wants to meet with the Covington students as a “delegate representing the international coalition behind the Indigenous Peoples March” to “have a dialogue about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures,” USA Today [12]’s Cincinnati.com reported. Stay tuned.

And see this video:

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.