Website tells of heroes'
Website a home base offering best data on vets who actually got
By Erin Emery
Denver Post Staff Writer
Fueled by two pots of coffee and 12 Pepsis,
Doug Sterner works 10 to 12 hours a day on a computer,
passionately preserving the history of heroes.
In a backroom of his Pueblo home, Sterner
has diligently assembled the country's most definitive database -
more than 24,000 stories - on those who received either the Medal
of Honor, a service cross or the Silver Star.
"The stories. I get goose bumps,"
he says. "I sit at my computer and I literally shed
Each day since 1998, Sterner has gathered
photographs, citations and military records and assembled them in
one place, homeofheroes.com.
"I do it because nobody else is,"
Doug Sterner's efforts to debunk claims of
bogus military valor made by individuals have resulted in the
unmasking of two indiviudals. Sterner talks about his website in
his Pueblo, Colorado office. (Pueblo Chieftan)57, a Vietnam
veteran with two Bronze Stars and an adjunct professor at Pueblo
Sterner wants a hearing before the House
Veterans Affairs Committee to persuade Congress to pass the
"Preservation of Valor Act." That legislation would
require the government to create a complete and accurate database
of veterans who have received military awards.
People could visit a single source to read
about the valor and courage of military members and to verify
whether those who claim to have received the honors actually have.
"We're asking them to bring military
records into the 21st century," Sterner said. "If I can
do it on my own with very little funding and very little access,
the government should be able to do this."
Over the past decade, Sterner has caught
"a couple hundred" people making false claims about
Last month, Sterner contacted the FBI after
he read that Glenn Marshall, the leader of the Mashpee Wampanoag
tribe in Cape Cod, Mass., claimed he was the recipient of a Silver
Star and five Purple Hearts while serving as a Marine in Vietnam.
Marshall, whose tribe is trying to build a
billion-dollar casino in Middleborough, Mass., was forced out as
leader of the tribe after the discovery that he had lied about the
Sterner also helped document the past of
Raymond R. Sawyer, formerly of Arvada. After Sterner saw Sawyer's
name in a Legion of Valor list as a recipient of the Navy Cross,
he checked his files. The honor hadn't been bestowed. In April,
the Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona filed
first-degree-murder charges against Sawyer. He allegedly confessed
to the 1981 killing of his wife.
Anyone caught lying about an award they did
not receive can be prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act, a law
Sterner, his wife, Pam, and U.S. Rep. John Salazar helped pass
Sterner, who runs the website on $25,000 a
year he receives in donations and sponsorships, has the backing of
several members of Congress, including Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of
"Soldiers risk life and limb for our
nation, and we recognize their service in a solemn way and award
them medals," Musgrave said. "The honor becomes
diminished when others are able to defraud the government and
military by obtaining medals they did not actually earn. I support
creating a system of accountability that preserves the integrity
of our military medals and recognizes the bravery of our soldiers,
sailors and airmen."
Having a national database, Sterner said,
would help families preserve their heritage and eliminate the kind
of heartache and frustration encountered while trying to wade
through the nation's archives or military personnel records.
Jan Girando, who lives in Kansas, tried for
more than a year to find verification that her father received a
Navy Cross. She needed the paperwork to get a headstone for him in
Arlington National Cemetery.
Her father, Victor L. Miller, died in 1985.
He had donated his body to science. As his children got older,
they wanted him and his heroics in World War II to be remembered.
Girando found snippets of information and spent a long time on
hold during phone calls to government offices before she finally
saw Sterner's website.
She e-mailed him, and he replied with a
synopsis of Miller's heroics: " ... By his superb flying
ability, indomitable fighting spirit and cool courage, maintained
at great personal risk, Lieutenant Miller contributed immeasurably
to the extensive and costly damage inflicted ..."
Girando, 61, couldn't believe her eyes.
"This guy saved my life," she said
Miller's headstone was erected in April, and
on July 11, members of Miller's family from eight states gathered
at Arlington for a tribute.
"It has to be the coolest thing that
has ever happened in our family," Girando said. "It
moved the dial of our lives, I think, because it united the
When she tried to repay Sterner for his
help, he declined. "The very fact that this worked," he
said, "is payment enough."
Staff writer Erin Emery can be reached at
719-522-1360 or firstname.lastname@example.org