Military Roll of Valor Act of 2007

From the News Story Archive

Website tells of heroes' medals
Website a home base offering best data on vets who actually got medals

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 tears."

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," said Sterner,

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 Community College.

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 military awards.

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 honors.

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 last year.

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 Colorado.

"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 of Sterner.

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 family."

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 eemery@denverpost.com .

 

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There are MANY good REASONS for Congress to Pass the Roll of Valor Act. Below are links to FOUR that quickly validate the need for a National Database of Military Awards.

Real Heroes Found

Phony Heroes Exposed

V.A. Fraud Dollars Recovered

Accuracy in Media Stories

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News Stories on the Roll of Valor Act

 

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