Weekly Columns

Earlier this year, two Sharp County residents were belatedly awarded military honors they had earned serving our nation during World War II.

My military liaison, Lt. Col. Steve Gray (Ret.), presented their honors at a ceremony in Highland where he recounted their remarkable stories of sacrifice and bravery.

Richard Manning, who was born in Jonesboro, joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and was among the brave soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy. He was a member of a unit known as “The River Jumpers” which crossed 20 rivers and captured 33,000 enemies in a 400-mile area in just fifty days.

Toward the end of the war, Manning was wounded by enemy fire. Nearly 70 years after he retired from service, he was presented with honors for each of the campaigns he fought in, the Good Conduct Medal, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

George McCants, an Oklahoma native now living in Arkansas, was also wounded by enemy fire in World War II.  His unit was pinned down and took heavy casualties during the battle in which he was wounded.  McCants would recall that “airborne lost a lot of men” during the battle. He said only 33 men out of 187 that were fighting that battle survived.  

During the ceremony, McCants was presented with honors for each of the campaigns he fought in, the Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

The ability to present these long-overdue awards is among the most rewarding jobs of a U.S. Senator. The veterans we honor have truly earned their decorations and, for one reason or another, never received them until we helped track them down.

Unfortunately, there are rare instances where civilians falsely claim that they too have earned these distinguished honors. As a result of a recent Supreme Court decision, under current law they can even profit off their lies without punishment.

Back in June, the Supreme Court struck down a 2006 law that made it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other prized military awards. While the Court called the false claims "contemptible," the Justices said that it was nonetheless protected speech under the First Amendment.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it a crime to profit from fraudulent claims about military service. This bill should stand the Constitutional test because it narrows the scope by focusing on the profiting of these false claims. 

There is clearly overwhelming support in both chambers for this effort to protect our decorated veterans. I am one of 33 Senators who are cosponsoring a companion bill here in the Senate. While the President has not publically endorsed the bill, his administration argued in favor of the broader law before the Supreme Court. If we pass the bill in the Senate, which we should be able to do simply and quickly, I believe President Obama would sign into law this commonsense solution to the problem.   

Our veterans sacrificed dearly to earn their commendations and honors. We need to protect the integrity of their service by preventing others from falsely profiting off these honors by fraudulently claiming they too received them.

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