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Congressman criticized for wearing replica military pin received from Vietnam vet

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., during a visit to Baghdad, Iraq on Feb. 22, 2011.

BRIAN HARE/U.S. ARMY

By PAUL GATTIS | Alabama Media Group (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 18, 2017

A Huntsville, Ala. man running for Congress accused U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks on Tuesday of inappropriately wearing a military pin when Brooks hasn't served in the military.

According to Brooks, though, the pin was given to him by a decorated Vietnam War veteran to honor Brooks for the courage he displayed at the shooting last month at a congressional baseball practice when Brooks helped aid two of the five people who were shot.

The Vietnam War vet, John Reitzell of Huntsville, confirmed Brooks' account and said that the badge was a replica and was not an actual Combat Infantryman Badge.

Reitzell told AL.com that he pinned the badge on Brooks' lapel at a senate candidate forum at the Huntsville Botanical Garden on June 20.

"I have this little lapel pin I want to pin on you as a reminder to all of us that there are very few lengths you will not go to to protect us," Reitzell said he told Brooks.

Reitzell served 28 years in the Army, reaching the rank of colonel. He was twice injured in the Vietnam War and is a member of the Madison County Hall of Heroes.

Brooks said he was "highly honored" to receive the pin.

"A highly-decorated retired Army individual named John Reitzell walked up to me and gave me his and pinned it on my lapel out of respect for how I handled myself when under fire at the Arlington baseball field with my fellow congressmen," Brooks told AL.com.

Clayton Hinchman, a veteran of the war in Iraq who lost a leg while on a nighttime raid to captured or kill Al Qaeda, issued the press release Monday night. The press release said Hinchman was "expressing his outrage" at Brooks for wearing the pin.

"As someone who has seen brave men and women hurt in combat when answering the bold call to go to serve their country in the military, I understand the frustration of the many veterans who have come to my campaign upset to see their congressman wearing a badge he was not awarded," Hinchman said in the press release.

Reitzell said that the badge he gave to Brooks was "a symbol. It's not the real deal." Such a badge could be bought at dime store, Reitzell said.

"I said it's a gift from one of your constituents who doesn't agree with you all the time," Reitzell said he told Brooks. "But we're still friends. So that's' where the whole thing started."

Reitzell said the badge is to be worn on the left lapel. But he said he purposely pinned it on Brooks' right lapel to signal it was not an authentic badge.

"It's a symbol. It's not the real deal," Reitzell said. "And I'm pinning it on the wrong side so nobody will get caught up in it. Well, I was wrong. Somebody wants to politicize it."

Hinchman said he heard from Reitzell soon after the press release went out Monday night. Both Hinchman and Reitzell said the conversation did not begin on the most pleasant of terms.

Hinchman said Tuesday afternoon that he stood behind the press release. He said supporters said they wanted Brooks charged with stolen valor.

Reitzell said he told Brooks that he "insisted" Brooks wear it.

"If anybody on earth has a problem with it," Reitzell said, "just have them call me and we'll talk about it."

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