Friday, May 09, 2008

Will They Ever Learn?

Here's a suggestion for all those would-be and never-were Rambos out there: give it up. You may get away with your false claims of military service and/or heroism for a while, but eventually your lies will be exposed. And, thanks to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, you could find yourself facing a federal judge.

The latest armed forces phony also hails from California (more on him in a moment). The Golden State is also home to Xavier Alvarez, the Pomona water board member who identified himself, on at least two occasions, as a retired Marine who won the Congressional Medal of Honor back in 1984.

Mr. Alvarez is currently awaiting sentencing on charges relating to the Stolen Valor Act. As we reported recently, a judge rejected Alvarez's claim that he had a "constitutional right" to lie about his military service. Mr. Alavarez never spent a day in uniform, but that didn't stop him from bragging about being a "26-year Marine," who won the MOH for his actions in a harrowing firefight. On another occasion, the Democratic politician claimed to have been a military helicopter pilot in Vietnam during the late 1960s. At the time, Alvarez was only 17 years old.

His comrade in deceit is one Michael Allan Fraser, who hails from Oroville. Last year, Mr. Fraser gave an interview to the local paper, according to the Military Times, and claimed to be a decorated combat veteran, with two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars from his days in Vietnam. He even took part in a veterans' trip to Vietnam, to help "bury ghosts of the past."

But Fraser's account seemed a little fishy to a Colorado man, who helped write the Stolen Valor legislation. With a little digging, he discovered the truth. While Fraser is a Vietnam-era veteran, he never served in the war zone. Instead, he spent his Army hitch in the Philippines, working as a veterinarian's assistant.

Earlier this week, Fraser pleaded guilty to charges relating to his bogus claims. A federal magistrate ordered him to pay a $500 fine and perform 100 hours of community service, helping veterans.

We'd say Mr. Fraser got off easy. Many of the men who earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam received those awards posthumously. False assertions by phonies like Fraser degrade the accomplishments of real military heroes. They certainly deserve better.

Federal judges and magistrates could take a step toward curbing the flood of military fakes, and send them to jail. The prospect of a few months behind bars would deter many of the charlatans and reduce the number of Stolen Valor cases.

Unfortunately, violating the 2005 law is only a misdemeanor, and prosecutors and judges lean toward lenient sentences for offenders, many with no prior criminal record. The U.S. attorney who prosecuted Xavier Alvarez has recommended probation and a fine for the water board member.

We hope the judge in the Alvarez case will impose a tougher sentence, and send a message to the legions of military phonies who are still out there, regaling family, friends and the media with tales of valor that never occurred. It's worth remembering that Mr. Alvarez, who took a pass on military service, claimed an honor that has been won by less than 4,000 Americans. With his lies, Alvarez put himself in the same company with such men as Dan Daly, Audie Murphy, Jimmy Doolittle and Bud Day. That alone should qualify Alvarez for jail time, in our opinion.

As for the phony heroes still out there, no one can say they haven't been warned. In the internet age, it has never been easier to check military records, or research claims of valor. The recent flood of "Stolen Valor" prosecutions underscores public awareness of the issue (most cases begin with a tip from the public) and the government's willingness to prosecute. As the tips keep coming--the FBI has an agent who now works the issue full time--more and more of the military frauds will get the punishment they deserve.


Unknown said...

By coincidence, I was trying to research such claims yesterday.

As far as I can tell, civilians cannot find awards. I went to a DOD site that purported to let former servicemen find their own awards and was unable to find my own.

Do you know a way to check on, say, silver star claims?

John A said...

"... he spent his Army hitch in the Philippines, working as a veterinarian's assistant."

Took a moment to recover from thinking that Francis the Talking Mule must be REALLY old by now. Then I remembered he retired form the Army about 1949 and went civilian in Chicago.

J.R.Shirley said...

Hm. I wish those claiming awards they have not received could be considered to have violated the Fighting Words doctrine, and receive the appropriate award from the nearest veteran(s).