Bill proposes prison terms for anyone faking military awards, medals
WASHINGTON — B.G. Burkett has seen thousands of cases where con artists used fake military medals to receive political appointments, reduce prison sentences, and even build dedications in their honor.
So he is thrilled with proposed legislation before Congress that would make lying about these honors a federal crime, punishable by up to six months in jail.
“It’s not just guys in a bar who make up stories,” said Burkett, an author who has spent 19 years researching the military frauds.
“I’ve seen pedophiles who have used the medals to date women, then used them to entice children. I’ve saw a murderer’s sentence reduced because of medals he didn’t earn.”
Current federal law already prohibits the manufacturing of fake medals and the wearing of unearned military honors. The new legislation, introduced by Colorado Democrat Rep. John Salazar, also would make it a crime to display or claim credit for the medals.
Salazar, a Vietnam War veteran, said con artists who simply keep a fake Purple Heart in their pocket can’t be prosecuted under current law, but they can use Americans’ respect for the military to steal money or steal glory.
“For all the real heroes, there are hundreds of phonies,” he said. “These phonies dishonor the military courage needed to receive these medals. By letting them continue to do so, we only make the hurt much worse.”
Hershel Gober, national legislative director for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said those who consider claiming fake honors a victimless crime don’t understand the true value of the medals.
“There are over 12,000 Purple Hearts awarded for the current wars, and many of those recipients are coming back in coffins,” he said. “All their family has left is that Purple Heart. To those of us who really served, they’re sacred to us.”
He also took aim at the movie “Wedding Crashers,” which features a scene in which two men use fake Purple Hearts to pick up women. Gober said writers overstepped the bounds of tasteful comedy with the bit, denigrating the sacrifice troops who’ve earned the award went through.
Burkett said the FBI rarely pursues the fake medal cases on their own, but have arrested hundreds of fakers brought to their attention by him and other researchers. He said expanding the law will help keep real heroes’ honor intact.
“If you look at the tangible price of these medals, you can probably manufacture them for less than a dollar,” he said. “But that medal represents everything about America.”