Pentagon reverses itself, launches military medals database
Spurred by fallout over Supreme Court decision last month that invalidated a law punishing those who falsely claim combat awards, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the formation of a new online database to catalog true recipients of military honors.
“Free speech is one thing, but dishonoring those who have been honored on the battlefield is something else,” Panetta said at a historic joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committee Wednesday.
The database, which also went live this week, will first index Medal of Honor recipients, then the service crosses and Silver Star, and perhaps other awards in the future, Panetta explained. As of Thursday, ten names have been indexed.
The move was a significant reversal for the Department of Defense, which has pushed back against such a database on grounds that privacy and security concerns and the sheer number of awards would all make such a project impossible.
The concession was due in part to Congressional heavy hitters like Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who had drafted legislation last spring to create such a database, and has been briefed by the Defense Department about the project’s ongoing development.
The DoD-run database is a step in the right direction, military historian Doug Sterner told Human Events, but he is continuing forward with his own project to combat stolen valor. First privately and now with the sponsorship of Military Times, Sterner has worked for years on his own “Hall of Valor” database, which now catalogs all of the 3,476 Medals of Honor ever awarded, nearly all of the service crosses, and tens of thousands of other combat awards.
The problems Pentagon officials may now face in completing the database project are in part of their own making, said Sterner–an outgrowth of poor internal record keeping, even into the computer age.
In a 2007 Baltimore Sun report, Pulitzer Prize winner David Wood wrote that a freedom of information request for citation narratives of Silver Star recipients was denied by the Army “first on the grounds that it couldn’t find all of them.”
Though the project is long overdue and likely to be hobbled by bureaucratic challenges, Sterner said he looks forward to seeing the database progress, and suggested that medal citations, with their narrative of the actions that merited the award, should also be published online, available to the public.
“This database should be able to answer the question by a young child, years later, “what did grandpa or grandma do to earn the Silver Star in Afghanistan?” Sterner said.
Meanwhile, bills that would craft a more narrow, constitutionally sound version of the Stolen Valor Act are gaining steam in the House and Senate and may see floor action before the end of the year.