By THOMAS BURR
Salt Lake Tribune
July 27, 2005
That's right. No longer do you have to trudge into battle, face insurmountable odds, get wounded or killed in the name of your country to receive one of America's top military awards. You can simply buy one off the Internet, where this week a Purple Heart could be purchased on eBay starting at $19.95.
But falsely claiming to have earned one of the nation's top military medals may soon be a crime under new legislation from Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.
"That should be against the law," says former Navy corpsman George Wahlen of Roy, Utah's only living recipient of the Medal of Honor who also was awarded three purple hearts in World War II. "It's something that is a personal thing. It shouldn't be sold."
This week, eBay had a Purple Heart and Bronze Star package with a bid of $24.95. Or you could purchase a Navy Cross - awarded for courageous and distinguished service - for $39.95. And the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross was going for $11.95. Plus shipping, of course.
That disturbs Lt. Col. David Thomas, spokesman for the Utah National Guard.
"I think it's sad that people would stoop to that," Thomas said. "I don't think you can put a price to those medals. People have given their lives for those medals."
One eBay seller, who didn't want his name used, said the "vast majority" of his business comes from current members of the military, retired soldiers or their families who just want to replace medals. There is an official channel to replace medals, though that can be difficult, the seller said.
He also defended his business and dismissed the proposed legislation as one meant to "make people feel good about this because it will take their minds off other things."
But Salazar, the bill sponsor, says his legislation is meant to protect the honor of the medals, so that not everyone can buy one and profess to be a recipient.
"Shame on those who claim credit for acts of courage they did not commit, their lies are criminal," Salazar said in a statement. "Medal recipients are often too humble to parade their honors. By letting the phonies continue their masquerade, we diminish the honor of our true heroes."
Salazar successfully pushed this weekend to get the Web site of the new movie "Wedding Crashers" to drop the ability for visitors to print out a Purple Heart certificate, touted as a way to pick up women. The movie's parent company apologized in a statement.
Utahn Frank Maughan, who was wounded in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart, says he is a "free market guy," but that the commercialization of military awards "causes a lot of pain to a lot of people."
"There have been way too many people claiming even to the (Veterans Administration) that they're Purple Heart veterans when in fact they bought it somewhere in a pawn shop or someone else," Maughan said. "What does it say about those folks who never served, but now want to claim that they did? That says that they have a pretty deep shame going on in their life."
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