BOXED ALSO EQUALS STOLEN VALORAmerican Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies
Everyone has probably heard of the stories of fake military vets who attempted to gain admiration or even win public office based on false claims of military service or military valor. That abuse of the military awards and decorations system resulted in a new federal law " The Stolen Valor Act". ( Public Law No: 113-12.). It is being enforced now and more than a few active duty members, some quite senior and legitimately decorated have been caught up in it.
Recently MILITARY.COM published an article about active duty members being embarassed by deliberate false displays, and accidental inaccurate displays. You can read about it by clicking on this link MILITARY.COM . Some of the stories of active duty members claiming awards they were not entitled to are outrageous. Others are tragic. Admiral Mike Boorda committed suicide in part over an erroneous display of not medals, but the miniature ribbon devices that one attaches to the suspension ribbons of medals. Two of his legitimately awarded ribbons ( which are worn on the service dress uniforms in lieu of the actual medals) displayed miniature "V" devices ("V" for valor). In his suicide note the admiral maintained that these two miniature devices were displayed in honest error. Personally I could easily see how. I have a wide variety of awards and some require "miniature devices" such as bronze stars to indicate subsequent awards, or bronze hour glass symbols to denote lengthy service. or "O" devices on achievement awards to denote "operational" services vice "administrative" services, since many "achievement awards" are bestowed for either administrative or operational achievement. I'm not an admiral and certainly not the Chief of Naval Operations. But I am old (67) and have vision problems. I'm also crusty and if I had ever been called out for wearing the wrong miniature device on a ribbon I probably would have plead simple vision issues. But the concept of "stolen valor" was so embarassing to some one like Admiral Mike Boorda that it was a mentioned factor in his taking his own life.
Being Old and retired I don't wear the uniform often, mostly to funerals of old shipmates. I do serve with the uniformed volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary and we are privileged to wear our military decorations on our Auxiliary service dress and dress uniforms. I am admittedly excessively leery of decoration errors since passage of the Stolen Valor Act. In recent months I have taken advantage of a custom that seems to be allowed and was followed by Douglas McArthur I wear only three ribbons , my top three that I have very clear memories of and first rate documentation for. The other five rows of ribbons and their associated medals stay in a box.
I'm not only concerned that my failing eye sight may lead me to make a mistake in identity or precedence , or any required associated miniature device , I'm concerned that I could be challenged on any of the several poorly documented awards, or that some may have been rescinded. You've never heard of a rescinded award where there was no disciplinary action involved? Actually I haven't either, but consider just this one example of a potential rescission. Since it was first issued the Coast Guard's "Sea Service Ribbon" and the somewhat related "Cutterman's Pin" have had their criteria for award changed perhaps more than once. The Cutterman's pin originally, if memory serves, was awarded for two years of continuous sea service. The original sea service ribbon was awarded for any permanent change of station orders to a sea going cutter. Later the Cutterman's pin was associated with specific seamanship skills demonstrated while assigned to a cutter on permanent change of station orders. The criteria for the Sea Service Ribbon was changed to signify two years of continuous attachment to a sea going cutter. I never heard or read anything directing those who were awarded the combination under earlier criteria were to return or cease and desist displaying the ribbons. But just because I never heard anything does that mean I'm definitely entitled to still wear them? Who wants to risk it? In the box they went.
In that box of mine there are some awards like that, where I don't know if the government decided at some point to revoke them. But even if award criteria over the years changed and earlier awards were allowed to stand, I feel very hesitant to wear anything doubtful in a typical active duty crowd with few people over 40 who would have any memory of the earlier situation. I have some unit and group action awards that are well documented and for which I have distinct memories, and some individual medals that I know very well what they were for and for which I have excellent documentation. But they all stay in the box. Why, because the "rule"or tradition is that you either wear your "top three" or all awards , there is no provision for self selected in between displays. So awards other than the "top three" no matter how well documented or deserved stay in the box with the lesser awards never to be on my uniform again, or in a shadow box, or anywhere else where changing awards criteria, or poor documentation, or poor vision may bring my integrity into question.
The real problem has always been that the Congress and the senior officer corps have long made a mess of the awards system. Its time for real reform. Any valor or achievement that I was officially thanked for by the United States in the form of one of these ribbons or medals I would rather see uncommemorated than to have my integrity impugned by accident of misguided "enforcement" or changed award criteria. My medals now stay in a box hidden away, and unless there is real reform in the system soon, I'll be buried in my top three only and the box and its contents eventually will be thrown out.
Most of the symbols of valor and achievement associated with my decades of service have been effectively taken from me. I'm not nearly as offended by some faker stealing credit for things he in fact didn't do, as I am by my seniors mishandling of the awards system. Awards that must be kept in a box out of sight are meaningless.
Its time to use some common sense. That has become a scarce commodity in government, the military being no exception. I suppose that compared to dealing with ISIS this is all pretty trivial, but for the sake of the young people currently serving , especially those who have been crippled or died in service, military awards shouldn't be trivialized, or so complicated that the highly "decorated" just as soon "box'em and forget 'em". The immediate "solution " is fairly simple, allow individuals to select and wear whatever they are certain they have been awarded whether its 3, 5, 9 or more decorations. Allow possession of anything a member has received for display in a shadow box,or frame, Limit enforcement of the Stolen Valor Act to wearing unauthorized decorations. Military awards should not be a cause for new record keeping chores for those to whom they are awarded, or anxiety when wearing them. With one stroke of the pen such a general order would reduce the negative effects of the other problems that the brass have allowed into the awards system. With that out of the way, attention can be paid to reforming the system by reducing the number of awards with an eye to being more meaningful, using more care in determining award criteria to avoid later changes, making less use of miniature devices, preferably by establishing separate medals/ribbons for "achievement" in operations, administration, or combat.
Just how common is it for highly decorated military personnel to simply box their awards? A lot more common than the brass imagines. Most are more anxious to protect their reputations and integrity than to display mementos of their valor, achievements, or participations in historic operations. Awards that can't be displayed without anxiety are are also valor stolen.