Stolen Valor Tarnishes Service Members' Sacrifices

By David Vergun

Army News Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2013 - Soldiers in every war have risked their lives to defend America. In many cases, their valor has been above and beyond the call of duty. For their service, they receive Purple Heart Medals for wounds, and for valor they might earn Bronze Star Medals, Silver Star Medals or others.

It may seem hard to fathom, but there are many who claim to have earned medals to which they are not entitled. Others say they've served in combat but never have.

Donald Mason knows this first-hand because he's called these individuals out and exposed their fraud to the public.

Mason served from 2009-2010 as the national commander of the Legion of Valor. The organization was chartered by an Act of Congress in 1955. Today he serves as the commander of the legion's San Antonio chapter. All 627 members have received the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross.

The mission of the Legion of Valor includes extending relief to needy members, their widows and children, promoting patriotism and pride in serving, and cherishing the memories of valiant deeds by those who served. Members also protect the valor of service members by exposing people who steal the valor of others.

About five years ago, Mason recalls getting a call from the Texas Department of Transportation, which had also contacted Dick Agnew, commander of the Dallas/Fort Worth Legion of Valor chapter. Department personnel suspected that some motorists were fraudulently claiming to be entitled to put Legion of Valor license plates on their vehicles.

Mason and Agnew found that of 67 Legion of Valor plates issued in Texas, 10 were fraudulent. The men then tracked down those 10. Surprisingly, all had actually served in the military, Mason said. Furthermore, most had been officers. However, none of them rated any of the four medals that would make one eligible for membership in the Legion of Valor or to have the license plate.

One of the perpetrators was from Mason's hometown of San Antonio. He was a retired Army lieutenant colonel. Not only did he have a fraudulent plate, he also wore his dress uniform to church and among the medals he wore but did not earn was a Distinguished Service Cross. Another was a combat infantry badge for service in Korea.

When questioned about his combat badge, he replied that it was earned in 1956. The Korean War ended in 1953.

This cut close to home for Mason, who had served with the Marines in Korea as a corpsman. In October 1952, he earned the Navy Cross during fighting near Panmunjom.

Mason has dealt with other cases. He's currently looking into the case of a fraudulent Purple Heart Medal.

It's fairly easy to steal valor, he said. Medals and ribbons can be purchased on the Internet, and blank DD-214 discharge forms can be found online. Awards can then be typed in as well as other service-related data. It doesn't help matters that many service records were lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, in 1973, he added, meaning people can claim their records were destroyed.

The Supreme Court also made it more difficult to prosecute cases of fraud, he said, when in 2012 in U.S. v. Alvarez, it found the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 to violate the First Amendment's free speech clause. The act had made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration.

Subsequently, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2012, which makes it a crime if the stolen valor results in profit.

There are still steps people can take to find out and report stolen valor. The Defense Department, for example, has a list of service members who've earned some of the highest awards for valor.

Mason said he and other Legion of Valor chapter members would be glad to help if someone needs assistance in reporting stolen valor cases.

The first step Mason takes is to talk to the person. If that doesn't work then he would bring it to the attention of the public through the media. Mason said newspapers have reported cases of stolen valor. Also, the fraudulent claims should be brought to the attention of the U.S. Attorney's Office, if the case involves stolen valor for profit.

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