Ladner's former commanders refute Purple Heart claim

- A Cherokee County man who claims he has a Purple Heart faced a series of witnesses in court who actually served with him during the time he was supposedly injured in battle.

None of those retired military officers backed up Shane Ladner's 1991 war story that a grenade explosion left him wounded while on a secret mission in Central or South America.

Ladner maintains that he was personally awarded a Purple Heart in mid to late January 1991 when he woke up in his hospital bed to find the award pinned to his pillow.

He said it came after a firefight during a top secret jungle mission aimed at drug traffickers. It was the first of several secret missions he says he participated in, even though he was 18 years old and just a few months out of boot camp and high school.

Investigators tracked down military doctors and officers who served with Ladner that year, including the commander at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras who just happened to be retired and living in nearby Forsyth County.

"We had no combat operations conducted out of our facility. Classified or unclassified," retired brigadier general John Walsh flatly stated. "They didn't exist."

Walsh was an Army colonel commanding Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras in January 1991 when Private First Class Shane Ladner arrived to be a military police officer.

Ladner has said he was wounded in his very first secret mission, then exposed himself to enemy fire and took out a machine gun nest on a later secret mission.

General Walsh testified there were no secret missions.

"When I was the commander of Joint Task Force Bravo, we never conducted combat operations of any sort of kind," he told the jury. "No counter-narcotics operations. It wasn't even part of our mission."

Ladner is on trial on charges he lied to Cherokee County investigators about his war wound, and lied to the tax commissioner to get a tax-free Purple Heart license plate for his pickup truck.

Ladner claims he was hit by shrapnel during that supposed jungle firefight, leaving him with stitches, a six-inch battle scar and limited to light duty for several weeks.

But Ladner's military medical records from that year don't mention any treatment for a shrapnel wound -- or any wound for that matter -- just mundane maladies like vomiting or a twisted ankle.

Colonel Percy Dunagin commanded all medical operations on the Honduran base during the time Ladner says he was wounded.

He testified his people never handled any wounded soldiers.

"No," Dr. Dunagin stressed. "Never."

Dr. Roland Weiser commanded medical operations in the second half of 1991. When asked about the possibility his hospital treated a combat wounded soldier that year, he said "no," then answering the question more like drill sergeant than doctor, "I said I thought it was bulls---."

Investigators even found Ladner's battalion commander from that time. Retired Colonel Walter Wright said no one got a Purple Heart while he was there.

"If someone had been awarded a Purple Heart, would it have been important for you to know?" asked assistant district attorney Zachary Smith.

"It would have been important and it would have been rare."

Yet Ladner has produced a document he says he got from the military that lists a Purple Heart and other impressive awards. Prosecutors have told the jury this document does not exist in his official military files.

Assistant D.A. Smith pointed out all those awards to retired Colonel Wright.

"Would those be things on the face of this document from your experience actually being in country at the same time as the defendant that would cause you from the face of this document to question its authenticity?"

"Yes," Wright answered.

Ladner sued FOX 5 after our investigation in 2013 poked holes in his original war story that he was wounded during the invasion of Panama. That lawsuit was dismissed but he has appealed.

The state could wrap up its case Thursday.

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