Two young men who told thousands of cheering people at a rally they had just returned from the Persian Gulf apparently never left New Jersey, officials said Thursday.

The pair of 19-year-olds from South Amboy claimed to be veterans of Operation Desert Storm at Saturday's victory celebration at the Fort Hancock Historic Site at Sandy Hook. They responded to a loudspeaker call for returnees to register at the VIP trailer.Speaking at the rally, the pair told the crowd they had returned together from the gulf. In fact, one is a Marine Corps reservist who was not called to active duty during the crisis while the other is a civilian.

A Marine Corps spokeswoman said that disciplinary action is being considered against the reservist.

Thousands of people attended the rally, which was originally planned as a show of support for U.S. troops and then turned into a celebration after the cease-fire was announced.

The young men told a WOR-Channel 9 reporter who tracked them down in South Amboy that their speech had been misinterpreted and denied making any false statements. They apparently gained nothing from the deception except the crowd's adulation.

Muriel Smith, a rally coordinator, said no one thought to check the credentials of anyone who claimed to be a gulf veteran. She called the deception "a crummy thing to do."