More than a few Old Salts bemoan the medal-happy mania that’s infected all branches of the Armed Forces. While the present day Pentagon has almost 100 different decorations ranging from Navy Recruit Training Service (thanks for graduating Boot Camp) ribbon to the Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal (Wh-what?) to the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (superior achievement as a Brownie Troop leader), the likes of Sgt Maj Dan Daly (Medal of Honor, twice) looked upon medals as “a lot of foolishness.”
Even General of the Army (5 stars) Dwight Eisenhower sported a mere nine decorations on his chest the day the Germans surrendered. As eye rolling as the once revered Bronze Star (of course, sans Combat V) being relegated to the Staff Officer Good Conduct Medal, nothing quite gets a Serviceman’s Irish up more than seeing some poser playing fast and loose with what’s been popularly termed “stolen valor.”
While the actual Stolen Valor Law was struck down in 2012, Congress did make it illegal for any given individual to wear unearned medals if their intent is to fraudulently defraud.
The notoriously liberal Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has deemed anyone wearing unearned medals for whatever reason is Constitutionally protected, as reported by Stars and Stripes as well as Fox News.
In an 8-3 ruling, the majority of the judges went over to the Dark Side by declaring that Elven Joe Swisher of Idaho did nothing wrong when he wore medals he never earned as he “filed a claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder benefits, saying he had been wounded and traumatized in a secret combat mission in North Korea in 1955, two years after the Korean War ended.”
During his 2007 trial, prosecutors showed the jury a photograph of Swisher wearing several medals to include the Silver Star for combat heroism, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for non-combat heroism, the Purple Heart for wounds received, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat V denoting personal valor.
However, it was revealed that the same man who was attempting to receive government benefits for combat-related PTSD didn’t even join the Corps until a year after the Korean War ended. It was also brought to light that he was never wounded in the line of duty.
Discharged three years later, Marine Corps documents indicate that he didn’t legitimately receive any of the medals he sported while lobbying for government money.
According to the 9th Circuit, Swisher’s fraudulent wearing of unearned medals are actually a type of “symbolic speech” protected by the US Constitution.