MINNEAPOLIS - Timothy Michael Poe won over the crowd and the judges of NBC's "America's Got Talent" even before he began to sing, with his moving story of blocking a grenade blast in 2009 to save his buddies in Afghanistan.
When a judge remarked during the episode broadcast Monday on the disappearance of Poe's stutter, he spun another tale: He discovered his talent only after his speech therapist suggested he sing in the shower.
But an ex-wife says Poe was never hurt on the battlefield, had been singing "pretty much his whole life" and spent four years fronting an alternative rock band. A MySpace page last updated in February 2009 for the band Crawl Space lists Poe as vocalist.
And the Minnesota Army National Guard says its records show Poe never was injured in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq. That has ignited a firestorm online, especially among veterans and on military blogs, over Poe allegedly claiming glory and sympathy to which he's not entitled.
"It's embarrassing for me and it's embarrassing for his children and it's embarrassing for the military," said Shannon Conroy, who was married to Poe from November 2005 until April.
In the "America's Got Talent" episode that aired Monday, Poe told the judges that he spent 14 years in the military and was attacked in Afghanistan.
"I had volunteered for a team to go out and clear buildings and help out with the wounded," Poe said during a taped interview on the show. "There was a guy who comes up with a rocket-propelled grenade. I saw it coming down, and by the time I turned and went to jump on top of my guys, I yelled 'Grenade' and the blast had hit me."
Poe has declined multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press. Military records show he served with the Guard from December 2002 through May 2011 as a supply specialist. They show he was deployed in Kosovo from October 2007 to July 2008, and then served in Afghanistan for about a month in mid-2009. The sergeant was honourably discharged in 2011 because of a medical disability.
The 35-year-old Texas man claimed when he spoke to WFAA-TV of Dallas last month that he was also wounded in Iraq in 2005, when his truck was hit by a roadside bomb.
In a detailed rebuttal Thursday, Lt. Col Kevin Olson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Army National Guard, wrote that none of the military records that Poe's fiancée, Carrie Morris, provided to reporters back up his claims that he was ever injured in combat. However, he said, other documents indicate Poe suffered the injury that led to his medical retirement while training in Indiana in July 2009 before he deployed to Afghanistan. He also said there were no official records showing that he ever deployed to Iraq or was injured there.
In another discrepancy, it was confirmed Thursday that Poe gave "America's Got Talent" and WFAA a photograph of another soldier and passed it off as himself. The caption of the original picture on the official military websiteDefence.gov says it shows Staff Sgt. Norman Bone serving in Afghanistan in 2006.
Poe is being savaged by veterans and on military blogs and in social media.
Nick Colgin, a medic who earned a Bronze Star for valour during his 15-month deployment in Afghanistan, said fabricated tales of heroism dishonour other veterans whose service goes unnoticed.
"There's 2.4 million veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, and for someone to go on national TV and bring disrespect to them and their service — it's inexcusable," said Colgin, who came home in 2008 with a brain injury after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the side of his Humvee.
It's unclear whether Poe could face any legal action. While the federal Stolen Valor Act allows prosecution when people make false claims about receiving medals, Poe didn't say anything about medals in passages that have aired. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule within a few weeks on whether the law is constitutional.