Arguably the biggest news event last week was the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. But this story is about another case finalized last week by the highest court in the land whose announcement has upset millions of active military members, veterans, families connected to the military and people from both sides of the political spectrum.
The case in question is the Supreme Court reversal of the Stolen Valor Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. Specifically, the law prohibited any person from falsely claiming that he or she had been awarded a military honor. One individual who was convicted from this federal law was a California man named Xavier Alvarez, who falsely claimed that not only he was a veteran, he was a recipient of the nation’s highest military award – the Medal of Honor. Alvarez was an elected official on the Three Valley Municipal Water Board in eastern Los Angeles County. This man bragged that he was a retired Marine, was wounded several times and was bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor. After it was discovered that he flat out lied about all of his military experience, he was convicted under the Stolen Valor Act but argued that his lies were protected by the free speech provision of the First Amendment. His appeal was upheld by the 9th Circuit of Appeals, which led to the Justice Department’s efforts to have the case heard by the Supreme Court.
Although the court’s 6-3 decision was not entirely unexpected, it now means that an individual effectively has a right to lie about whether or not he or she was awarded a particular military honor. But by asking anyone connected with the military about how they feel about it, the overwhelming consensus is that individuals who lie about any military experience clearly dishonors themselves and dishonors the men and women who have served their country.
Sadly the case of Xavier Alvarez is not unique in our nation’s history –
1) The Chairman of ZaZa Energy Corporation Herbert Williamson III, is under fire for his claim that he served in Vietnam as a member of the United States Army and received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1973. Military records show that he never served overseas and he now cannot be prosecuted for his false claims.
2) Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda, the nation’s top Naval officer committed suicide in 1996 after an interview request from Newsweek Magazine was going to expose his combat military honors.
3) Richard Strandlof claimed he was the fictitious Marine Corps Captain Rick Duncan who survived the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and a roadside bomb in Iraq. The FBI arrested him in 2009. Strandlof later said that he never meant to cause any harm about his fake military service.
4) Brian Creekmur claimed he was a former Navy SEAL sniper and even had a house full of SEAL memorabilia, including military awards and a uniform. He even went as far as tweeting his military accomplishments on Twitter. Creekmur was later exposed by a woman he was romancing on the social network site who discovered that there was no evidence that he was ever a SEAL.
5) Former Connecticut attorney general and current Democratic State Senator Richard Blumenthal once said “we have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.” Blumenthal, who did serve six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, never did serve in Vietnam and has since said he misspoke.
There are several more instances of individuals lying about their military experience and there are certain to be several more in the future. But regardless of last week’s decision to strike down the Stolen Valor Act as protected speech, those who attempt to mislead the public for personal gain and recognition are disrespecting anyone who was served honorably in the United States military, particularly those individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our country.
In observing our nation’s independence from Great Britain in 1776, let us have our barbecues, festivals and fireworks. Let us also observe those who served in the military with honor but let us reject anyone who cowardly lays claim to a false military award.