Recipients of different military awards for valor earned the medals and recognitions that they received— be it Silver Star, Navy Cross, Medal of Honor, Purple Heart. More than the medal, they risked their lives in danger in order to save others, without much regard for their safety. The respect and admiration that come along with the award were well-deserved. That’s why it is utterly disgusting and disrespectful for someone to walk around and pretend that they earned a medal of valor.

When someone is discovered to be a fraud, they are usually humiliated outside of the justice system and through social media.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 criminalizes offenders who falsely claimed to have received these decorations, but it was later declared unconstitutional in 2012. In 2013, a new Stolen Valor Act was signed into law, subjecting an individual “to a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both an individual who, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.” That applies to anyone who claims to be a recipient of any of the following:

  • a Congressional Medal of Honor,
  • a distinguished-service cross,
  • a Navy cross,
  • an Air Force cross,
  • a silver star,
  • a Purple Heart,
  • a Combat Infantryman’s Badge,
  • a Combat Action Badge,
  • a Combat Medical Badge,
  • a Combat Action Ribbon,
  • a Combat Action Medal, or
  • any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.

Instead of imprisonment, there were cases where they were given more creative sentences for their crime. Here are some instances:

Not a Medal of Honor Recipient

Jackie Stern had been proudly wearing his Medal of Honor in public speeches, parades, and to the people in his community in Florida, and why not? He did a heroic action as an army captain in the Korean War. Apart from that, he was also a Purple Heart recipient complete with a special license plate, a former prisoner of war, an ex-police detective, and most impressively, a karate champion.

WWI pilot Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Medal of Honor on display in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the US Air Force. (LaRock, Ken (US Air Force photo), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

However, when a sheriff’s detective checked his records, it turned out that while he did serve in the army in the 1950s, but he was never in Korea, nor did he advance his rank beyond private. As it turned out, he bought the medal at a New Jersey military show for $800. According to War History Online, when he found out that the medal was authentic, although not awarded to any veteran, he started making up stories about his valor to wow the community and the other veterans.

As part of his sentence, Stern was required to attend mental health counseling and perform 250 hours of community service at a VA hospital. Any hope he might have had to quietly fade into the background again of private life again was dashed by additional penalties imposed by the judge.  Stern was ordered to take out a quarter-page ad in his local newspaper on Memorial Day confessing his lies to the whole community and also write 174 personal letters of apology, one to every living Medal Of Honor recipient in the country.

Part of Stern’s public apology letter stated:
“I know that my actions have cheapened the honor of those who have received this valiant award and my pitiful attempt and selfish quest for family recognition has tarnished the dignity of all the brave men and woman whom this medal was legitimately bestowed.”

Silver Star Off The Internet

Eric Piotrowski truly served as a Marine from 1986 until 1991. After then, he worked with the California Exposition and State Fair Police Department as a cop. Perhaps, those were not enough for him so he decided to pretend to be a war hero by writing a fake Silver Star citation for exposing himself in the enemy fire to cover a US anti-tank team, and also guided them to safety near Kuwait International Airport in Operation Desert Storm during the first Gulf War.
Silver Star. (Wikimedia Commons)

On December 1, 2007, The Undersecretary for the California Department of Veteran Affairs formally recognized Piotrowski for the Silver Star that turned out to be nothing but purchased off the internet.

According to Sacramento Marines, “Marine Corps Times began investigating the case in December 2008, before FBI agents charged Piotrowski. In a December 3 phone interview, he expressed surprise when his citation was questioned, saying he was first notified he rated the Silver Star in 2007 after he sought his military medical records. That prompted an audit of his service record, he said, adding that he later received the citation from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.”

He was arrested and ordered to return his peace officer’s certification as he was banned from serving in law enforcement ever again. He was also sentenced to 12-month probation plus 200 hours of community service at a veterans hospital. As Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Rodriguez, the prosecutor of the case, said the punishment was a “poetic justice.”

Not A Marine, Nor A Purple Heart Recipient

Then 36-year-old William Horvath wanted to seek leniency after escaping from prison and being recaptured with firearms. He did so by claiming that he served in the Marines from 1986 to 1991 as a field artillery scout and that he received a Purple Heart for his service in the invasion of Panama. To prove his claims, he provided photographs, dog tags, and his decorations, all presented to his probation officer. Horvath’s father was even on it and told the same story.
Chief US District Judge Donal Molloy, as documented on his federal court document, said, “I am going to go out on a limb in this case, Mr. Horvath, and what I’m going to do is put you on probation.”
His lie was busted four years later after the Marine Corps official noticed that his uniform was worn improperly in the photos that he provided. It also didn’t fit with the era that he claimed to have served, his other equipment didn’t belong, and his decorations were all displayed incorrectly.

Molloy ordered Horvath to write a public apology letter and separate letters to the US Marine Corps commandant, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, and American Legion chapters. He wrote:

I realize that by falsely representing myself as a marine, I have dishonored all those who have served in the United States Marine Corps and all other branches of the U.S. military, and that my false statements have diminished and tarnished the contributions and sacrifices that other have made to protect my freedom.

Apart from that, he was also ordered to stand in front of the US courthouse in Missoula, Montana, for 50 hours while wearing a sandwich board that said, “I am a liar. I am not a Marine.” in front, and “I have never served my country. I have dishonored veterans of all wars.” on the back, although that very creative punishment was appealed later.

Moral of the stories: Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Just don’t.