Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States…shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both. 18 USC § 704b Military Medals or Decorations
Most reporters and media pundits were too busy reporting on the highly anticipated ruling by the Supreme Court on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare, to notice that it also ruled on The Stolen Valor Act (SVA). In a 6-3 vote, the court struck down the law, signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 2006.
Congress drew up the Stolen Valor Act, 18 U.S.C. § 704 in response to a number of men who lied about their military service, some of whom more egregiously claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
As Tejinder Singh wrote in a Supreme Court blog, the law made it a federal crime “to lie about having received a military decoration or medal, punishable by up to a year in prison if the offense involved the military’s highest honors.”
The current ruling began in 2007 when Xavier Alvarez was prosecuted in California for making these false claims: “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.” The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.
Interestingly enough, as early as 2003, Henry Mark Holzer, a Constitutional law professor, and his wife, Erika Holzer, wrote “Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, and Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service”. In 2006, they presciently warned that Congress’ attempt to nail imposters, who lied about their military service and/or their medals via the Stolen Valor Act, was unconstitutional because it criminalized “pure speech”.
After Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, the Holzers authored “The Late Unlamented Section 704(b) of the Stolen Valor Act”, which announced a 2nd edition of their 2003 book. Their revised edition will include a section entitled the Fake Warrior Act, a proposed law that removes all of the constitutional arguments on free speech similar to those that resulted in the demise of the SVA.
Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision, a Corporal with the Marines in Vietnam who currently lives in Johnson City, said, “I do not see this as an easy or clear-cut matter. Like any veteran, particularly those of us with combat exposure, I bristle at the pretenders. In the final analysis, I think the Court ruled correctly under the US Constitution.”
Disagreeing with the ruling, however, another Austin area veteran, who flew out of Thailand during the Vietnam War (Air Force pilot, Col, retired) said, “I’m disgusted. It downgrades all my awards as far as I’m concerned.”
A former Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam (CW4), who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, summed it up the events since this past Thursday succinctly: “I detest phonies as much as anyone, but you can’t choose which parts of the Constitution you like or agree with!”
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on the Stolen Valor Act, a Vietnam era army veteran (Sergeant Major, retired) from Austin concluded with these profound words for all of us: “Do not believe everything you hear and only partly believe what you see. Ours is a blessing most people in the world do not have. Ours is a heritage of Freedom and that heritage must be protected with the exercise of our individual authority and responsibility. We must stand up and we must interrogate with character laced with honor and high expectations.”