We have another criminal case of unauthorized wearing of medals — a growing line of such cases of “stolen valor” cases. Steven Burton, 39, of Palm Springs, California would wear enough Navy medals to make a Soviet general blush, but he never served a day in the military. He made the mistake of going to his High School reunion in a Marine uniform, where he ran into a real Navy commander who was a bit curious about his Navy Cross.
Burton seemed uninhibited in his claims, including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the Navy Cross, the highest medal awarded by the U.S. Navy. It was the latter that attracted the attention of a Navy commander when she met Burton at the reunion. He was also wearing the uniform of a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel. She asked to take a picture with him so that she could show it to the Navy and confirmed that he never served as a Marine or as a member of any other military service. She then turned over the picture to the FBI.
The FBI found postings were he discussed engaging in combat and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in Falluja. His rank appears to have changed wildly including the picture above where he is demoted to a gunnery sergeant but wears a full panoply of medals including the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Navy and Marine Corps medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among others.
Burton actually works in a bank.
We have previously discussed “stolen valor” cases, here. I still have some misgivings legally about the idea of criminalizing the wearing of medals or claiming a military record if you do not use the false claims to secure financial or personal benefits. I am appalled by such behavior and hardly sympathetic with people like Burton. However, people adopt various false identities on the Internet and in life without engaging in criminal fraud or other crimes. Of course, wearing such uniforms and medals does secure intangible benefits of respect and social standing. Moreover, many of these cases do involve tangible benefits such as travel payments or speaking fees etc. My only concern is with false claims that are confined to parading around or bragging to friends. Could Congress make any claim of false identity from an architect to an anthropologist a crime? Half the pick-up lines in bars would be criminalized.
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