promotes database for military honors
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
was inevitable but not unavoidable.
the Library of Congress began its Veterans History Project seven
years ago - encouraging veterans or their families to compile
oral, video or written histories about their time in service - it
was inevitable that some would inflate their accomplishments,
would award themselves medals they didn't really receive.
all, who would ever check the record?
for those wannabe heroes, Doug Sterner checks the record. The
Pueblo man has compiled a massive database on Medal of Honor
recipients as well as those who have received the Navy Cross,
Distinguished Service Cross and Air Force Cross, the nation's
second-highest military decorations for bravery in combat.
fact, Sterner's wife, Pam, wrote a college term paper that became
the Stolen Valor Act of 2006, which makes it a federal crime to
falsely claim to have received military decorations. The couple
started the effort after Sterner compiled his Home of Heroes Web
site, which is devoted to the Medal of Honor. In the process, they
learned about the many men who brazenly pretend to have been
awarded the nation's highest medal.
groups, FBI agents and others use Sterner's database when they
suspect someone is posing as a hero and, as a result, dozens of
imposters have been caught - and now face punishment under federal
is why Sterner began scanning the Library of Congress veterans'
project Web site more than a year ago. Experience told him that
military histories submitted by veterans themselves would probably
include many imposters. Very quickly he found three men who
falsely claimed to have received the Medal of Honor.
contacted the Library of Congress at the time to let them
know," Sterner explained. "Their response was
essentially, ‘Don't bother us.’ ”
wasn't very likely because Sterner has been working for the past
few years on building his database of military decorations - a job
he thinks the federal government should be doing.
the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely claim to
have received the Medal of Honor, any of the military crosses or
the Purple Heart, Sterner said the Library of Congress ought to
have been more sensitive to the problem that only was going to
grow unless checked.
problem came to a head recently when reporters for the Marine
Times newspaper wrote that 24 veterans who had filed histories
with the Library of Congress wrongly claimed to have received the
Medal of Honor. Making it worse, the reporters found more than 30
false claims for Distinguished Service Crosses and 14 false
reports of being awarded the Navy Cross.
reporters used Sterner's database to cement their findings.
week, the Library of Congress issued a statement defending the
Veterans Project as a congressionally mandated effort that is not
a historical archive - meaning factual - but a collection of
personal wartime reflections.
such, the (Veterans History Project) does not verify the accuracy
of the accounts that are provided to the project," the
so, library officials confirmed they would remove false medal
claims when those are discovered.
said that answer falls short for the veterans who have
legitimately been awarded their medals.
you put the Library of Congress stamp on the project, people will
take it as factual history," Sterner said. "If they are
not going to care about the facts, then they should rename the
project, ‘War Stories, Including Some That Are True.’ ”
wants Congress to take the next step and authorize a single,
public database on all military decorations, especially the top
decorations for bravery in combat.
Army veteran of Vietnam and a holder of the Bronze Star himself,
Sterner believes public access to that important information would
be a great service to veterans and their families - and quickly
chase off the imposters who pretend to be heroes.
project, which Sterner guesses would cost about $8 million to
create, would quickly pay for itself in stopping fraud in the
Veterans Administration. Sterner pointed to five recent arrests in
the Seattle area where military imposters were caught, several of
whom had received a total of $1.4 million in unearned veterans
need to get some congressional hearings on this and then the
public would recognize the extent of the problem and the benefits
of correcting it," he said.