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My first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, was an F4B Phantom jet pilot, whose aircraft was shot down on August 29, 1969, approximately 20 miles South of Da Nang, Vietnam, after six months in country. Neither Jerry nor his navigator, 1st Lt. Al Graf, was able to eject, before the aircraft crashed into the Que Son Mountains. Initially Jerry and Al were classified as Killed in Action/No Body Recovered (KIA/NBR). Years later, both Marines were listed as MIA, along with other service members whose bodies were never recovered.

Jerry has been gone nearly a half century, and hope for recovering his remains had run out a long time ago.  However, in recent years our family became involved with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), now merged with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and learned that Jerry’s and Al’s remains might, in fact, be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to support their efforts to make this happen and bring our guys home where they belong.

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Memorial Day Reminder: “Stolen Valor Act” Not Dead Yet

Thursday, May 26, 2011 @ 05:05 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis


In celebration of the 150th anniversary of establishment of the Medal of Honor by an Act of Congress signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in December 1861, Congress last year passed an Act directing the U.S. Mint to strike two commemorative coins – a $1 silver coin and a $5 gold coin that will be available in 2011 only.

Many in law enforcement and military circles say that Memorial Day celebrations generally bring out the good in American culture. Most of us look forward to honoring our armed forces, especially in these turbulent times when our troops are serving in harm’s way. Families attend parades, fly their American flags and dress in everything patriotic. And many of us remember loved ones, like Jerry, who gave their lives for our country and never came home.

However, the holiday also offers a feeding frenzy for imposters who tout heroic acts never performed and wear medals never earned — and in some cases, profess to be members of the Armed Services, when in fact they never served at all.

People like Tom Cottone, a retired FBI Agent (2007), was involved in many big-time, organized crime cases during his career, but along the way he developed a specialty in exposing and disposing of fake medal holders. I had the privilege of meeting Tom at Jerry’s 40th Memorial Service in August 2009, when he arrived at Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects with my friend, retired Marine Capt. Ben Cascio (the One-Eyed Ugly Angel).

Cottone (pronounced Katone) perhaps is best known for his pursuit of Medal of Honor phonies. This coveted medal has been bestowed upon fewer than 3,500 individuals by the President of the United States, on behalf of Congress, since the decoration’s creation in 1861. According to the Army’s historical statistics, fewer than 300 have been awarded in the past 50 years. During the Vietnam War, 246 Medals of Honor were awarded, 154 of them posthumously; four during Iraq and four, thus far, in Afghanistan. Over the years, Tom worked closely with the Medal of Honor Society, even busting several impostors at recipient reunions.

An understated guy but clearly committed to ferreting out the phonies, Cottone likely will tell you that the upcoming holiday is ripe for the wannabes, who not only abuse the system but detract our attention away from the real heroes who are deserving of our respect. Cottone’s dogged pursuit of wannabes earned him a distinguished title as an Honorary Marine in 2002 by then Commandant General James Jones. Ironically, Cottone spotted a phony at his own award ceremony when his eagle eye zeroed in on Navy Capt Roger D. Edwards wearing 11 phony decorations. Capt. Edwards was convicted and sentenced to 115 days of confinement and $7,500 forfeiture of pay for three months, according to an article back then in Marine Corps Times by Laura Bailey.

Although there was a U.S. law already on the books that dealt with phonies, as well as many state laws, the real enforcement clout came when President George W. Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 into law on December 20, 2006. The Bush law expanded the previous U.S. law, covering such areas as unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of military decorations and medals. It also strengthened the federal offenses, such as imposing a misdemeanor for falsely representing oneself in having received a medal, with the possibility of up to six months in prison. In the case of lying about receiving a Medal of Honor, the imprisonment could have been up to a year.

As one might assume, the Stolen Valor Act was contentiously scrutinized after its passage, and recently the naysayers in the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech and a threat to every citizen. In defense of the decision, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said: “Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying.”

In peacetime, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may have considered this victory as the end game for The Stolen Valor Act, but the tide has turned in favor of our military and that could be bad news for those that think Chief Judge Kozinski is on the right track. The American public may not like the war, but unlike the Vietnam days when our Marines and soldiers were the bad guys, it seems that the last thing anyone wants these days is to minimize the importance of performing heroic acts and being decorated by an appreciative homeland.

Stay tuned. I think the Stolen Valor Act will end up either in the U.S. Supreme Court or back in Congress, with wordsmiths cleaning up the verbiage so that even the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would have a hard time shooting it down again.

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