Stolen valor. Do I care about the law?

posted at 8:40 pm on August 18, 2010 by Jazz Shaw

The news which came out this week concerning the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco ruling that the Stolen Valor law is not constitutional hit pretty hard for me. (For the record, the 10th Circuit Court in Denver has held the door open for appeal.) In case you missed it, the ruling essentially protects the “free speech” of people claiming to have earned military medals which they did not receive.

I should say right up front that, while I am a veteran, I didn’t earn any of the really “big medals.” I enlisted when I was 17, but the Vietnam war was pretty much over except for the cleanup operations and I wound up spending most of it serving under Carter. (Don’t ask. I don’t want to go there.) I got some of the usual, garden variety medals that most anyone can earn… good conduct, Pacific deployment, sharpshooter. But I wasn’t in any of the kind of action that qualifies one for the rewards under discussion in this court case. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hit me hard. You see, my father was a different story. (Along with many other men in my family.)

My dad served in the Army in World War 2 in one of General George Patton’s “Vulture Squads” in France and Germany. (Our host, Ed Morrissey, has had a peek at my father’s grave and military markers.) On one of his many trips up and down the advance line he arrived in time for the relief of Bastogne. There he – and several of his buddies – ate the shrapnel from a tank shell.

My dad came home with a bronze star and a purple heart because he spent one Christmas day long ago far from home lying in a pool of blood on a frozen field so you could all be free. My dad was a real American hero – a title I have never claimed nor would I ever try to do so. So you can see, this situation has a bit of a personal import for me.

A law was passed at one point making it a crime for people to falsely claim medals such as this, as well as the vastly more revered Congressional Medal of Honor. And now the courts seem to be ruling that lying about such things is part of our constitutionally assured rights to free speech.

I’m having a bad day because of this. I’m one of those annoying people who anger my friends on both sides of the aisle when I defend the constitution, even when portions of it become annoying. And I appreciate our right to free speech. Yes, I understand that to restrict such speech you need to show “damages” to somebody else. But doesn’t falsely claiming to hold the CMOH do damage to those who really earned it, along with their families? Perhaps, but what damages? How do we define it?

I have no answers. I’m probably wrong in the eyes of the courts and, for that matter, in terms of the constitution. I just know I’m angry. And I’m not currently in the mood to apologize. If you go around claiming these medals – for whatever reason – and you never served and you never earned them… you’re a scumbag. I don’t know if you should go to jail for it, but you deserve to have your butt beaten into the ground.

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To clarify, Barack Hussein Obama would be facing 1,000,000 years in prison instead of 1,000 years in prison.

Tav on August 19, 2010 at 1:17 AM

Only solution I can really think of, is for vets to start carrying around a copy of their DD214. I bring one with me when job hunting and such.

coyoterex on August 18, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Don’t forget to bring it with you when you go to Home Depot or Lowes and get a 10% discount.

Tav on August 19, 2010 at 1:26 AM

Yeah, the DD-214 is pretty foolproof. Lying about a purple heart may now be “legal,” but falsifying/forging a DD-214 is a heavy duty federal crime.

Good Solid B-Plus on August 19, 2010 at 1:38 AM

bgoldman on August 18, 2010 at 10:05 PM
In the Navy our Rifle and Pistol quals are a medal w/ corresponding ribbon.

TugboatPhil on August 18, 2010 at 11:36 PM

To be more specific for US Navy:

You only earn the medal if you shoot EXPERT rifle or pistol. You also wear the corresponding ribbon on the ribbon rack with a large silver E.

If you shoot sharpshooter or marksman: no medal. You wear the corresponding ribbon with a large bronze S. There is no letter for marksman for either rifle or pistol.

It is a lifetime qual, so back in “the day” when I shot Expert in both rifle (M-1) and pistol (.45), they were the first medals I ever earned… Been wearing them ever since…

Khun Joe on August 19, 2010 at 1:44 AM

I didn`t agree with your worst persons` list, Mr.Shaw, but I am in total agreement with you on this issue. You do yourself a disservice by downplaying your military service to this country.

My grandfather served in WWII as well and was badly injured during the Battle of the Bulge. Hit by machine gun fire, he sustained a “million dollar” wound. A very close call.

Your father was a hero and together with so many others he fought for the freedom I have today. These are tough men and those surviving today, like my grandfather, can only look in askance at the course America is taking under Obama.

I find this state of affairs abhorrent in the extreme.

The ruling by the judge regarding the Stolen Valor Law is part of this sorry state of affairs.

Sherman1864 on August 19, 2010 at 2:36 AM

Pacific deployment, sharpshooter?

hawkdriver on August 19, 2010 at 3:30 AM

I’m going to anger the author here by agreeing in principle with the ruling. Not because lying about medals is right, but because not EVERYTHING we find offensive should be criminalized.

Here’s the problem with “criminalizing” behavior we don’t like- such as smoking, speech, associations, etc. What we are doing, and bear with me here, is forcing a society that no longer ostracizes anyone for anything to do just that- with a law. The issue is that, as a society, the few decent people left are outraged at the fact that nobody cares about almost anything. So we make a few things “hot button” issues and then some politician, mining for votes, passes a law against it. All of a sudden you have the “state” making all the rules on what is or is not appropriate behavior. Do you want that? Are you happy when that dog bites your hand? No.

What should happen is what happened generations ago. If a man came to a job claiming to be a veteran and a medal holder say around 1952 and it was found out that he was neither, he would lose his job and probably have to leave town.

That doesn’t happen today. For example, we all know Kerry’s “experience” in Vietnam was the “quick get a couple of nicks and get out” type of experience. He was just punching a ticket. Yet, the people in the MSM eagerly accepted his war hero status. Really, for three paper cuts? How about the guys who lost limbs? But society refuses to judge anymore.

Don’t make it a crime, make it a shame. That is how you get your nation back, when people start holding other people responsible and in return learn to hold themselves responsible.

archer52 on August 19, 2010 at 6:06 AM

And here is an example of what I’m talking about.

archer52 on August 19, 2010 at 6:08 AM

The ruling is easy to understand.

Part of the Liberal agenda is to disarm Democratic militaries. To that end – every impediment to the good working order of our military must be thrown up. This includes support for the draft (which weakens overall morale in the military and provides Senior NCO’s with leadership challenges they don’t face when leading volunteers); it means support for open gay service and marriage between service members; it means support for women in all combat roles of the military; it means the “neutering” of our armed forces by refusing to use them in any circumstance; it means stopping recruiting on college campuses for officers …

And it means allowing the degradation of service through false claims of honor.

This is a liberal thing and, really – it’s not new. John Kerry exaggerated his military service by claiming he was in Cambodia on a Christmas when we had no troops in Cambodia. The attorney general of CT has claimed service in Vietnam when he never served there …

Nothing new really new here. In order for American to subjugated – her military must be saddled with as much disadvantage as possible. This is just another part of the plan.

HondaV65 on August 19, 2010 at 6:10 AM


Turn the situation around and substitute “armed forces” for police.

If its ok to wear medals how about a badge? Under this ruling its perfectly ok.

gdonovan on August 19, 2010 at 6:16 AM

It IS a crime to impersonate a police officer.

Or to practice medicine w/out a license. I.e. “impersonate” a doctor.

Could one impersonate a priest and encourage others to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets?

So. Why can’t we prohibit impersonating a soldier?

jeanneb on August 19, 2010 at 6:47 AM

This is a tough ruling indeed. And I know a bit about tough times. There was that time at Valley Forge when I urged General Washington to speak to the troops and also suggested the “Sunshine Patriot” phrase to Thomas Paine. It’s like when I told Dolly that she’d better get those paintings out of the White House and I encouraged General Jackson to cut a deal with the pirates in New Orleans. Then I told Chamberlin at Little Round Top to wheel right. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I also hated being the last man off the Arizona but it was good being the first man on the beach at Normandy and hell yes, there was some satisfaction when I dropped fatboy on those Honda-makers. And I remember Christmas in Laos and then slogging it house to house in Fallujah. Hey, I’ll show you the medals… a package from Amazon should arrive any day now. ;-)

rhombus on August 19, 2010 at 7:10 AM

The good thing is that there are a lot of people now on the watch for this and that oftentimes these ignorant jackasses beclown themselves, like the 28 year old guy who was going around as a Navy Admiral.

They should be ridiculed and shamed to the maximum extent permitted by law. This is where the VFW and other veterans organizations need to step in and shame these people and make their employers, potential employers and people close to them, just how vile an act this is.

NoDonkey on August 19, 2010 at 7:35 AM

I guess we all can yell “fire” in a crowded theater now too? Does that mean “Blue Sky” investment laws are illegal too? Since when does Freedom of Speech including lying? Freedom of Speech is meant for POLITICAL speech, not for grifters and scoundrels! What country do I live in?

EliTheBean on August 19, 2010 at 7:48 AM

This decision typifies the rot that is eating this country from the inside out.

rplat on August 19, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Here’s a flash for you.

Veterans usually don’t talk about their military service, except with other vets or very close friends.

When someone starts bragging about service or especially medals, it is safe to assume they are lying through their teeth.

esblowfeld on August 19, 2010 at 7:59 AM

I too am a veteran, 22 years Army and this ruling has me riled up to no end, but I think the part that hits me the hardest is the irony of the situation.

The vast majority of those who served move amongst us never mentioning their service. There are true heroes who you probably come into contact with everyday without knowing it and yet it is the phonies who do the bragging and exaggerate their record. This is something I learned from my father in law, a former Marine. I knew he served but it was one day while out fishing that I learned he had served in Korea during the war. Not only served but had made two landings, Inchon and Suwon, survived the Frozen Chosin and been wounded three times. The third Purple Heart he turned down to remain in country rather then leaving. He spent time on a Navy hospital ship after being blown out of a foxhole by a Chinese grenade. To this day you would never know it and you won’t hear it from him. We talked about it then but other then talking about some of the crazy R&R stuff we have never talked about it again.

Those are the people who are most affected by this type of ruling. To the pretenders, maybe you ought to be introduced to a military tradition called a blanket party, if you want to pretend to be in the military I think this tradition should be shown to you to give you a fuller appreciation of the lifestyle.

Just A Grunt on August 19, 2010 at 8:09 AM

I don’t see how there’s a 1st amendment right to fraud.

meep on August 19, 2010 at 8:22 AM

Like the author of this blog, I have two feelings about this ruling.

I disagree with the author and the 9th Circus, though, that it’s my constitutional right to lie about my qualifications, etc. It’s just silly to think that the founders believed that lying was a constitutional right. We don’t allow business to claim unproven qualities of their products/services. I know, it’s slightly different because it’s a form of fraud. But, a constitutional right to lie? Come on, get real.

However, I think it the stolen valor law was ridiculous in the first place. We passed a federal law to put someone in jail for lying about what medals they received? As a veteran of 22 years of service, it irks me to no end when someone wrongly claims to have received the Medal of Honor. Like those who lie about any of their qualifications, they deserve to be punished in the court of public opinion or fired if the lie enabled them obtain their position.

RedinPDRM on August 19, 2010 at 8:34 AM

If people think that there are “implications” then they didn’t (and apparently still do not) know what I just posted.

DaveS on August 18, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Signing paperwork etc under the impression that you have accolades you didn’t earn should always be illegal, but just stating so should not be (this would put politicians out of business).
But there are implications to all things like this.
Abortion is ‘legal’ & there are implications to that.
This, however, is on the low implication scale.
There are already groups of people on the internet who make it their mission to expose those who lie about their military service.

Badger40 on August 19, 2010 at 8:42 AM

One difference between lying about having earned a diploma and lying about military service/honors is that earning the latter involves far greater sacrifice. People who claim military service and honors that they didn’t earn should become front-page stories in their hometowns, so everyone will know what liars and cowards they are.

Like many, perhaps most, men who were in combat during WWII, my father didn’t like to talk about his experiences. He won a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts; he qualified for a third Purple Heart, but refused it, saying that he had more than enough medals already.

Among other feats, he crawled across open terrain to wipe out a Japanese machine gun nest, in order to protect the men serving under him. At another time, his best friend was blown to bits beside him — and my father was haunted by that memory until the day he died.

People who pretend to have earned military honors deserve the worst that can be meted out to them.

KyMouse on August 19, 2010 at 8:43 AM

Bear in mind the “Stolen Valor” law did not in any sense penalize people for any speech about the military except for false claims that they had been in the military and been given awards. Does free speech mean the freedom to lie?

I just don’t see the sense in declaring a law unconstitutional because you consider it unwise or harsh or unnecessary. A law should only be declared unconstitutional if it clearly violates the Constitution.

There Goes The Neighborhood on August 18, 2010 at 11:06 PM

The act punishes pure speech. The speech in question does not lead to “direct, immediate, and irreparable” harm. I don’t see how we can reconcile it with the first amendment without establishing a new “despicable” or “dishonorable” standard.

Why not pass a constitutional amendment to deal with this unique case? Unlike the issue of flag burning, I doubt the left will mount serious opposition to a stolen valor amendment. Military honor is certainly important enough to our nation for special protection to be enshrined in the Constitution itself.

year_of_the_dingo on August 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM

It’s OK to lie now.
Judges say so.
No Harm, No Foul.

Thank You for getting the ball rolling on this, Mr. Clinton.

TimBuk3 on August 19, 2010 at 9:30 AM

I wound up spending most of it serving under Carter

Thank you. Not only for your service, but also for serving under such trying times.

I am very much in favor of freedom of speech. However, things such as child pr0n are outside the bounds. Falsely claiming earned honors — acts that any society wants to promote in order to defend itself — falls in that category. There is absolutely no value in lying about military awards and it is a detriment to those who who have actually earned them; it devalues those honors and thus devalues the sacrifice and society’s calling upon some to make those sacrifices.

rbj on August 19, 2010 at 9:50 AM

Free speech should be the rule here. Once some scumbag is discovered to be a lying sack of shidt, his name and picture should be published in the paper in a special section of the paper JUST FOR lying scumbag sacks of shidt!

It wouldn’t be damage to the Lssos either. Informing the public of an at large serial liar is for the public good and therefore a service to the public welfare.

44Magnum on August 19, 2010 at 9:52 AM

First, to start, I am a soldier. I am not a hero. I served honorably in combat, did my job, and came home safely. Those who jump into the line of fire to save their friends, those are heroes. The medics who run into a firefight to pull a wounded soldier from the line, they are heroes. The Joe who mans the turret to his dying breath because he’s the only one left to do it, he’s a hero.

The title of hero goes to those who did more, and to those select few who went above and beyone we award small ribbons and pieces of metal. To pretend to have done these things does damage to their name, their reputation, and their honor, in a manner similar to slander or libel.

I sincerely hope the higher courts do not allow the Constitution I love and am sworn to protect to be used as a thin shield for scumbags. Regardless of what they decide, if anyone in my vicinity chooses to exercise their freedom to falsely claim to have served or have gotten medals they didn’t earn, I will exercise my freedom to give them a wall-to-wall counseling session, preferably with dimensional lumber.

Lobe on August 19, 2010 at 11:04 AM

My father served under Mark Clark in Italy and was a Captain in charge of front line communications. His men ran lines to the front and many were lost to snipers and ground assaults they wandered into. Many a time he had to run lines himself because everyone else was wounded, missing or dead. I heard this at one of his reunions, he would never talk about it and thought it was no big deal. Just doing his job. He kept his Bronze Star, and 2 Purple Hearts in a drawer. Since his passing I have mounted the certificates and medals next to his flag so all entering my home will know of his service. Lie about your fake medal in front of me and there will be trouble.

faol on August 19, 2010 at 11:11 AM

Lobe on August 19, 2010 at 11:04 AM

I would hope there’d also be some repairs needed to walls and such upon completion of the counseling session as well.

44Magnum on August 19, 2010 at 11:12 AM

This is going overboard and taking it too far, but…..

With this ruling, stating that it’s free speech to steal the identity of a true American hero, then it’s the same free speech that will allow me to impersonate a doctor and exam women for my pleasure and impersonate a police officer and pull people over just for fun.

They’ve now set the precedent, so we might as well take it to extremes like the libs do…….truly moronic, the courts.

Sponge on August 19, 2010 at 11:51 AM

So. Why can’t we prohibit impersonating a soldier?

jeanneb on August 19, 2010 at 6:47 AM

We do. It’s illegal under Title 18 of the US Code to misrepresent yourself as a member of the armed forces. (The definition of the crime includes attempting to exercise or benefit from the perquisites of the military: e.g., wearing a uniform and misrepresenting yourself to merchants who give military discounts, or pretending you have authority in a disaster area, or trying to fraudulently collect veterans’ benefits.)

What this particular ruling says is that claiming to have been awarded medals you weren’t given is not a federal — civil — crime. (It is chargeable against military members under the UCMJ.) Since there are a lot of things you can be charged criminally for lying about, the court presumably found that no material harm was done to anyone else by this kind of lie.

I’m pretty sure that if you lied about military medals on an employment application form, you could be charged with fraud under the law in most states. What seems to be covered by this ruling is lying to the public when there’s no financial or other material gain at issue for you.

I bet this can be retried on a different pretext, if someone can establish that concocting a fake military persona resulted in material gain to one of these valor thieves. If some PAC or non-profit pays his way to a rally, or he sells a story because of his false claims about military awards and service, the law should nail him for that.

J.E. Dyer on August 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM

The majority of us who served in the military (myself, US Army Vietnam 1968-1971) find this ruling very troubling.

But at least there are venues where the phonies, wannabes and frauds are exposed. One of the best web sites featuring literally hundreds of bogus military heros is POWNETWORK.ORG. By all means, check it out.

I guess, based upon this judge’s ruling, that impersonating a district attorney or for that matter a judge is no big deal either.

bannedbyhuffpo on August 19, 2010 at 1:22 PM

What also pisses me off are those that say they were ‘there’ (enter name of combat theater). I was activated from ’02-’07, and the only places I went to was Utah (Hill AFB), Qatar, and Diego Garcia. When folks ask me if I was in Iraq or Assganistan, I tell them no. Why lie when you could be called out on it? Some people are just plain stupid AND sick.

ammo john on August 19, 2010 at 4:41 PM


Turn the situation around and substitute “armed forces” for police.

If its ok to wear medals how about a badge? Under this ruling its perfectly ok.

gdonovan on August 19, 2010 at 6:16 AM

The difference is you can put someone in immediate danger by impersonating a police officer. If someone is walking around with a military medal someone isn’t necessarily going to run over and ask them to help thwart a burglary etc and ostensibly place all of their trust in you to provide for their safety whereas they will do that to a uniformed policeman.

J.E. Dyer on August 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM hit it on the head.
While I think someone is a bag of crap for lying about getting a Medal of Honor or insert whatever decoration you want here, there isn’t anything inherently illegal about just saying you got said decoration.
It’s like the difference between some a-hole telling a girl at a bar that he is a doctor and the same guy opening up an office and giving medical advice under the auspices of being a doctor.
Sure he’s a jerk for telling the girl that at the bar but no harm was done other than some possible hurt feelings. In the second case he is endangering lives.

MannyT-vA on August 19, 2010 at 7:55 PM