Nathan Phillips, the Native American who became the focal point of a viral confrontation with students from a Kentucky Catholic high school over the weekend, never served in the Vietnam War and wasn’t deployed overseas, the Marine Corps confirmed Wednesday.
Phillips, then known as Nathaniel R. Stanard, served in the Marine Corps Reserve for four years before leaving in 1976 with the rank of private. During his time in the Marine Reserve, he was a refrigerator technician and anti-tank missileman.
The 64-year-old Phillips gained a national spotlight when he was featured singing and playing a drum while standing face-to-face with Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann. Phillips later explained that he was trying to intervene between the students and a group of black street preachers who were shouting racist insults at both the Native Americans and the white kids.
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Numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post and Detroit Free Press, described Phillips as a Vietnam War veteran in reports on the confrontation over the weekend. The Post corrected its report, noting the correct length of Phillips’ military service and his lack of deployments. The Free Press added an editor’s note to its initial story that read: “It is unclear if former U.S. Marine Nathan Phillips served in the Vietnam War, as originally stated in this article. The Free Press has reached out to Phillips in order to clarify that information.”
Phillips was attending the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday. That march coincided with the March for Life, which the Covington students were attending.
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The Covington students, some of whom wore Trump supporters’ trademark red “Make America Great Again” hats, were initially criticized for appearing to mock Phillips, but the emergence of video showing them being harassed has prompted a widespread re-examination of the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Phillips told The Associated Press in an interview published Sunday that some students were disparaging Native Americans.
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These young people were just roughshodding through our space, like what’s been going on for 500 years here,” he said. “Just walking through our territories, feeling like ‘this is ours.'”
Phillips has since offered to visit the school and lead a dialogue about cultural understanding. Sandmann told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that he’d like to speak with Phillips as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.