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The Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, which for the past seven years has been collecting oral and written histories of veterans' war experiences, contains 24 entries for Medal of Honor recipients that are false, according to official records.
Of the 49 purported recipients of the nation's highest award for combat valor who have participated in the nationwide project by telling their story for posterity, only 25 appear on the official Medal of Honor registry mandated by Congress in 1916, which includes 3,463 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have earned the medal since its inception.
The false entries came to light based on a review of Veterans History Project records by Doug Sterner, who maintains an extensive, yet unofficial, online database of valor award recipients, and Mary Schantag, who runs the POW Network, a Web site listing U.S. prisoners of war.
Their review also turned up 47 history project participants who appear to claim unearned service crosses — the nation's second-highest combat award — and 45 participants who are incorrectly listed as prisoners of war.
Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project, said the records are provided by interview subjects voluntarily, and project staff rarely verifies Medal of Honor claims. They do not review entries involving lesser awards for valor or service.
"We in the past have made an attempt to make a review when people claim the Medal of Honor," Patrick said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. "We did a review some months ago, 18 months, and clearly it is time we do a review again."
As of Tuesday morning, the Veterans History Project pulled all references to the Medal of Honor from the 24 entries in question.
Based on a list compiled by Sterner and Schantag and provided to Marine Corps Times on Monday morning, the project's Web site included 32 unsubstantiated Distinguished Service Cross entries and 14 for the Navy Cross. It also includes the profile of Wallace M. Gallant, who was listed as of Monday morning as a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Air Force Cross and the other two service crosses. No service member has ever earned all three service crosses.
Patrick was hesitant to classify the interview subjects as frauds, and held open the possibility that there were clerical errors along the way.
"We have found cases of transcription errors and some cases where someone just wrote something down wrong," he said.
Sterner, a Vietnam veteran who was a driving force behind recently enacted legislation setting harsh punishments for those who claim unearned awards, said seeing "lies stamped with the seal of authenticity implied by finding these war stories preserved in the Library of Congress makes me want to throw up."
He added that the incorrect entries call into question the credibility of all the project's accounts, but Patrick said accuracy is not the project's primary goal.
"I don't think the project is compromised because it is not the mission of this project to establish a registry. The mission is to collect the war-time memories from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
As of Monday afternoon, it was unclear whether any of the subjects could be prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, in which false verbal, written and physical claims to unearned military awards carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Patrick said project members are planning to scrub their Medal of Honor entries, and that "because of the new legislation, perhaps we need to take a look at Distinguished Service Crosses as well."
But he added that there's only so far that the project can dig on its own. Verifying the reported awards of "roughly 50,000" veterans who have participated in the project since it was created by Congress in 2000 is "not feasible," given the breadth of information that would have to be reviewed and the lack of a national database for recipients of awards other than the Medal of Honor, Patrick said.
Instead, the Veterans History Project relies on the public to point out false information and makes "a good-faith effort" to "strike that from the individual's record" when it is discovered, Patrick said.
Sterner said this case exposes the problem with records relating to valor awards: The government does not maintain a central database of award recipients that, if made available to the public, could easily disprove false claims of valor nationwide.
"The VHP exists because officially, as a nation we have done a poor job of recording and preserving the history of our heroes. They, like myself and others, have seen the need to preserve the stories of our veterans, and have stepped out to do something positive. It is critical, however, that official channels provide them the tools to ensure that the history thus preserved is accurate history."
Sterner also applauded the project's goals, adding that "the worst thing we can do because of this problem is kill the messenger" and places the onus on Congress to establish a searchable database that would have prevented this problem.
Several lawmakers who were recently contacted by Marine Corps Times expressed their support for the establishment of the database and hearings to discuss it, but none has yet scheduled a hearing nor drafted legislation.
The following names listed as Medal of Honor recipients on the Library of Congress' Web site for the Veterans History Project do not appear on the official Medal of Honor registry:
Navy Seaman Anthony Belcastro
Army Sgt. 1st Class Levi L. Bizzelle
Army Maj. Donald Arthur Comes Jr.
Air Force Sgt. Ronald Keith Cook
Marine Capt. Charles Raymond Craynon
Army (E-5) Timothy Rene Dickinson
Coast Guard Boatswain Don Louis Duiven
Marine Col. Thomas McCoy Fields
Army Lt. Col. Wallace M. Gallant
Army Sgt. William L. Gnerlich
Army Capt. Michael P. Guglielmo
Navy Seaman 1st Class Steven Hanson
Navy Capt. Whitney R. Harris
Army Sgt. Roy R. Holt
Army Capt. Richard Plummer Howe
Army Pfc. Edwin R. Kruckenberg
Army Sgt. Douglas A. Kruse
Army Master Sgt. Erwin George Lathrop
Navy Seaman 1st Class James P. McNabb
Army Cpl. Paul B. Oakes
Navy Yeoman 1st Class Woodrow Wade Partin
Army Pfc. Arsenio F. Sanchez
Air Force Lt. Col. Billy Neal Stovall
Marine Col. John J. Windsor
http://www.militarytimes.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1560085">Valor awards database