Air Force has no record of claimed honors for Utahn
Washington • Here's a fact: Myron E. Brown is a veteran of the Korean War and a decorated one at that.
But then came the fiction.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jason Chaffetz presented Brown, an 86-year-old Provo resident, with three military awards supposedly misfiled for the past 60 years, including the second- and third-highest honors the Air Force bestows.
Brown said the written citations for the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart came in the mail, so he ordered the medals from an online retailer and asked the congressman to formally present them to him, which Chaffetz did at a Saratoga Springs town meeting in late June.
Records nowhere to be found • A Salt Lake Tribune review shows that the citations are fakes and the Air Force has no record of Brown receiving these honors. People who track such awards say Brown is culpable in a case of "stolen valor."
"The man had everything to be proud of and unfortunately he negated all that by trying to inflate his rÃ©sumÃ©. He didn't just bump it up a little bit, he falsified that record to place himself among the 1,000 most decorated heroes of the Korean War," said Doug Sterner, curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, who places legitimate military honors online.
Sterner, the first person to question Brown's long-lost awards, has no direct proof that Brown forged the documents, and that is important because a 2006 law makes it a misdemeanor crime to claim military honors you have not legitimately received.
Brown says he earned the medals Chaffetz presented to him and denies that he falsified the citations.
"I didn't do them. That is all I know," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I have not the slightest idea what these people are talking about."
Beyond the citations, Brown could not provide information to help corroborate the honors and could not provide the name of a member of his unit who could back him up.
"As far as I know they are all dead," he said.
Brown also said that other than a letter and the accompanying citations, he has not been contacted by anyone from the Air Force.
"I just got the letters from the Air Force. I had sent in a request to have them check and that is what I got back."
Sterner brought his concerns to Chaffetz, who contacted the Pentagon four months ago trying to verify a letter Brown presented to his office announcing the honors. His office received a response on Wednesday from the Air Force's legislative liaison saying the military could not say whether Brown's letter actually came from the Air Force, even though it was supposedly sent on Jan. 25, 2011.
"We cannot validate the authenticity of the letter," the response states. "Unfortunately, it appears his record is lost in transit."
The response has left Chaffetz frustrated and he says it does a disservice to Brown.
"I was hoping they would give me a definitive yes or no, but that did not happen," the congressman said. "It appears they are being more than vague and unfortunately it is not fair for him to have this question mark linger."
Chaffetz did say if the documents were falsified he would forward them to the U.S. attorney for possible prosecution.
"You don't falsify Pentagon records and have that taken lightly," he said.
The congressman gave Brown the military honors before 14 members of his family and a host of news media. Afterward, Brown told a reporter that he didn't mind the 60-year wait.
"Actually, it's a lot more exciting now than it would have been in Korea," he told the Deseret News. "They would have just lined you up on a parade ground and pinned it on your chest."
The story • The citations say that Brown received the Distinguished Service Cross for finishing a bombing run with an engine on fire and a leg wound, after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. It says he put the fire out and used a 50-caliber machine gun to kill a group of North Korean generals.
The citation for the Silver Star says Brown's plane took fire, which ruined the navigator's parachute and shot away the craft's controls, so he "did the impossible in order to save this wounded navigator's life" and landed the plane on its belly. Brown told reporters that he couldn't remember the navigator's name.
Sterner saw the news coverage and reached out to Brown to get a copy of the citations to include in his online database. Once provided, it didn't take Sterner and associates such as Mary Schantag, of the POW Network, long to spot some problems.
The documents begin with a letter from the Air Force indicating that water and fire damage to the original orders resulted in the "misfiling" of the three decorations. Schantag noticed format errors, such as an emblem commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II, which would make sense for the military to use in 1995, but not in 2011.
She also questioned typos in the text and a more conversational tone than appears in most military communication.
"Stuff wasn't adding up," Schantag said. "It just doesn't seem to have the paperwork to back it up."
She filed a public records request with the National Personnel Records Center, which sent back documents indicating that some files of Korean War vets were lost in a fire, but only people with last names beginning with letters H to Z.
The Center also provided a brief document on Brown's military history that shows he received a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal among other awards, but not the much more prestigious Distinguished Service Cross or Silver Star.
The Salt Lake Tribune sent copies of the citations to the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. An Air Force archivist responded by saying the citations do not correspond with any document in their possession.
"The copies of the special and general orders you provided are incorrect or do not exist," the archivist wrote in an email received Wednesday.
In two cases, the order numbers correspond to honors given to other veterans and in one case the order number did not exist.
For Schantag and Sterner, the story is tragic not only because Brown received honors that it appears he did not earn, but also because Chaffetz, a member of Congress, presented them to him.
Stolen valor • They have seen hundreds of stolen valor cases, and in a number of them members of Congress are duped into erroneously participating in ceremonies, floor speeches or even legislation.
In 2008, the Las Vegas Review-Journal outed Irving Joseph Schwartz, a World War II veteran who embellished his military record and fabricated a Purple Heart, but it came after Reps. Jon Porter and Shelley Berkley had pushed legislation naming a post office after him.
That same year, former Sen. Arlen Specter said Terry Richard Calandra should receive a Medal of Honor, the military's top honor, and a state lawmaker introduced a resolution honoring him for the award, but the Army Times said an investigation later uncovered major discrepancies in his service record.
Chaffetz said he wants to look into the process, either through congressional hearings or maybe legislation, to prod the Pentagon to create a database of military records so people can sort out the real ones from the fabrications. Past such attempts in Congress have fallen flat.
"I do think this is symptomatic of a larger problem," Chaffetz said. "People have been burned on this before and hopefully it didn't happen here. But I take the responsibility for following up on this very seriously."
If the congressman was duped, he fell for a story Brown has told for at least a decade. He self-published a book in 2009 titled A Combat Photo Diary of a Young Man, in which Brown said he learned in 2001 that he was supposed to have received the honors from the Air Force. The book included dramatized accounts of the actions described in the citations as well, and photos from his military service.
It also included this quote on its title page, attributed to Brown: "Now, about 60 years later, like most old men, I find that I remember everything perfectly, whether it really happened or not."