Scores of Americans, from clergymen to lawyers to CEOs, are claiming medals of valor they never earned.
A Chicago Tribune investigation has found that the fabrication of heroic war records is far more extensive than one might think.
Take the online edition of Who's Who, long the nation's premier biographical reference. Of the 333 people whose profiles state they earned one of the nation's most esteemed military medals, fully a third cannot be supported by military records.
Even in death, these stories live on. A look at 273 obituaries published in the past decade alone found that in more than four of five cases, official records didn't support decorations for bravery attributed to the deceased.
The investigationalso found bogus decorations, including at least two Medals of Honor, engraved on headstones in military cemeteries across the country.
In all, more than half of the medals for bravery examined, including the exalted Medal of Honor, are unsupported by official military records obtained by the Tribune from federal archives under the Freedom of Information Act.
The men whose obituaries or profiles in Who's Who make these claims are mainly individuals of note and accomplishment: lawyers, physicians, members of the clergy, chief executive officers, business executives, company presidents, university professors, career military officers, teachers, police officers, elected officials, even a psychiatrist.
"The problem is rampant," said Mike Sanborn, a former Marine who is the FBI agent in charge of investigating violations of the Stolen Valor Act. The 2007 law makes it a federal crime to falsely claim, verbally or in writing, that one has earned a medal for valor. Penalties range from six months to a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.
There have been an estimated 40 prosecutions under the Stolen Valor Act, nearly all ending with pleas of guilty and some in prison sentences. Enforcement of the act is hampered by the absence of a national database where employers, biographers, obituary writers, VA officials and others who need to know can verify such claims.
Although a bill is pending in Congress that would create such a database, at the moment the only official compilation is for recipients of the Medal of Honor, maintained online by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
-The Medal of Honor is the nation's most esteemed decoration for bravery under fire. Who's Who lists 15 people who did not receive the honor and, in some cases, never even served in the military.
-The ChicagoTribune unearthed 84 bogus Medals of Honor, 119 Distinguished Service Crosses, 99 Navy Crosses, five Air Force Crosses and 96 Silver Stars.
-The Tribune was able to contact 54 of the 103 individuals whose profiles in Who's Who claimed medals that were not supported by military records.
-Fifteen acknowledged they intentionally credited themselves with a medal they did not possess.
-Michael Roshkind, a former executive at Motown Records, said he awarded himself the Navy Cross "to make myself a hero to my wife. ... I'm not proud of that, but it's history."
-John Agenbroad, the four-time mayor of Springboro, Ohio, whose profile in Who's Who credited him with one Silver Star, acknowledged he didn't have one.
-James William Massick of Issaquah, Wash., who acknowledged falsely claiming the Navy Cross, said he couldn't explain why. Then he offered this insight: "I did it for my own self-gratification."
-Robert Martin Kilmark, a Florida physician, included a Silver Star in his profile out of pique at not having received that decoration, he said, for piloting his burning B-17 bomber into the Adriatic Sea to save the lives of his crew.