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In the first season of Mad Men, it is revealed that Don Draper was born Richard Whitman, but stole the identity "Don Draper" from a fellow soldier who died in Korea. The other soldier's body was not recognizable, so Whitman switched dog-tags with the dead man, and acted as if he was Don Draper from then on.

What was the motive for switching identities?

Was it just to cause his family to think he was dead? I understand he was ashamed of his roots, but it seems like he could just end contact and never go back. Why risk all of the hassle from stealing another guy's identity?

Or, was there something about assuming the higher rank of the other soldier, perhaps to go home from the war? I believe there was an episode where Don justified the identity theft by saying something like "I had to get out of there", but even that comment seems ambiguous.

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Richard "Dick" Whitman simply took Don Draper's (aka Wear Disguise's) identity to escape his prior life as soon as he realized the opportunity existed. By performing this transformation/exchange, he fully escapes his prior life with seemingly no chance of ever being discovered. This allows him a free pass to follow a completely different life path. It has nothing to do with trying to assume the original Don Draper's actual past or ranking; these were things Richard wanted nothing to do with. He simply wanted a clean slate.

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Thanks. I figured this was the story. Just seems like a not-well-thought-out decision, given the complications that Richard would face when he returned to from the war, and people started saying "hey you're not Don." But it's TV -- I need to suspend disbelief! – Shiz Z. Mar 5 '13 at 22:20
No one ever really told him he's not Don until Anna Draper tracked him down (privately, mind you!) and Whitman's brother eventually found him during the first season (having spotted Dick as Don as a child) and was rebuffed. It was only until either of those incidents were discovered that his identity was investigated. – JoshDM Mar 5 '13 at 22:28
That's what's weird to me. How can you steal someone's identity at war and then expect to not be noticed when you go home? Wouldn't it have been easier to just stay Richard and never talk to Richard's relatives again? – Shiz Z. Mar 6 '13 at 1:24
They'd have found a way to contact him. By giving them a body, he give them a dead end, and it's easier to deal with Draper's family than it would be to deal with Whitman's family. Watch the episode again. – JoshDM Mar 6 '13 at 3:34

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