Salazar Bill Targets Military Imposters
By Joe Hanel - Pueblo Chieftain
WASHINGTON - Phony war heroes should be fined and sent to jail for wearing unearned medals, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said Friday.
Salazar is introducing the Stolen Valor Act, named after a book by B.G. Burkett that drew attention to the problem of fake veterans.
"I've had murderers who have had their sentences commuted because of their (fake) glorious record in Vietnam," Burkett said at Friday's press conference to announce Salazar's legislation.
Burkett is a stockbroker who pursues fake war heroes in his spare time. He said imposters frequently are given honors based on their faked military decorations.
"I've had men who have had post offices named after them," he told reporters. "It's not just guys in a bar making up stories."
Salazar, who represents Pueblo and the 3rd District, noted that four Puebloans have received the Medal of Honor - William Crawford, Carl Sitter, Raymond "Jerry" Murphy, and Drew Dix. He said it was a sad fact that there are more imposters than actual recipients of the nation's highest honor for bravery in combat.
An Army veteran, Salazar said, "I served in the military during the tail end of Vietnam. I was not a hero. But I'm very conscious about what the uniform means to me."
Salazar's legislation calls for prison time and fines for anyone convicted of making false claims about receiving the Medal of Honor, or the next highest decorations for bravery - the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star and Bronze Star. It would also apply to people who fraudulently claim to have received the Purple Heart, which is given to personnel who are wounded in combat.
Under current law, it's not illegal to display an unearned or fake Medal of Honor unless the impostor actually wears them.
Salazar's legislation was developed with the help of Pete Lemon, a Medal of Honor recipient from Colorado Springs, as well as Doug and Pam Sterner of Pueblo. Sterner is an authority on the Medal of Honor and operates the Web site Home of Heroes, which is devoted to the medal and its recipients.
He receives frequent complaints from people across the nation about imposters who pose as medal recipients. Sterner passes that information on to the FBI - which recently confronted a Michigan man for fraudulently wearing the Medal of Honor.
Mrs. Sterner, a student at Colorado State University-Pueblo, wrote a report on the extent of the fraud problem, which became background for Salazar's measure.
The congressman noted that the public got a look at the problem in the new comedy film, "Wedding Crashers," where two characters use fake Purple Hearts to pick up women.
"I'm sure that it was meant as a joke, but I know many veterans have taken it to heart," Salazar said of the movie.