Veterans project said to contain false Medal of Honor stories
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Veterans History Project, a multimillion-dollar collection of over 50,000 oral and written war stories from Americans sponsored by the Library of Congress, is rife with errors, exaggerations, and what appears to be outright lies, according to outside experts scrutinizing the site.
Of 49 purported Medal of Honor recipients who told their stories to the project, 24 turned out to never have been awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, according to Doug Sterner, one of the country’s foremost experts in high-level military honors.
After reviewing the project’s Web site and cross-referencing it with his own databases, Sterner said, he found at least 32 out of 100 veterans who claimed to have earned the Distinguished Service Crosses did not, and 14 out of 50 entries improperly claimed the Navy Cross.
Meanwhile, out of 144 participants who said they were Vietnam-era prisoners of war, at least 45 were not, according to Mary Schantag of POW Network, a Skidmore, Mo.-based group that exposes fraudulent POW claims.
Research staff for the Veterans History Project conducts “periodic reviews” of its Web site for accuracy, said Matt Raymond, the library’s director of communications. The last such review was held about 18 months ago.
But after the names of the 24 fake Medal of Honor claimants were revealed in a story by the Marine Corps Times, researchers “have gone through and scrubbed the database again and removed incorrect information” on the Medal of Honor, he said.
“Any time we are presented with incontrovertible evidence that [a record or story] is not true, we do remove that information,” Raymond said.
Raymond said that the project’s researchers felt they had been “ambushed” by the paper, saying researchers would have corrected errors immediately but were not given time to respond.
Sterner told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday that he raised the possibility that there were incorrect Medal of Honor citations on the project’s Web site with researchers about a year ago, when he noticed that three names did not match the known recipients of the award.
And Schantag said her group knew years ago that the project had a problem and tried to talk to officials at the project, to no avail.
There are no requirements that the veterans participating in the project prove their military service before hand, and the volunteers who collect the stories for the project are largely civilians with no knowledge of the military. Schantag said that leaves them unlikely to sense when someone is spinning tales.
Raymond said that’s missing the point.
“[The project] is not intended to be a registry, or be a substitute for other forms of historical documentation,” he said. “It’s a supplement.”
Critics disagreed. Schantag said it’s one thing to say they are based on the memories of soldiers, and “everyone knows memories can be faulty, especially with the fog of war.
“But out-and-out fraud is another thing.”