Alamo's Bill Green, an Army veteran awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his service during the Vietnam War, has strong feelings about military honors.
As Green sees it, Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the Stolen Valor Act devalued the sanctity of those medals, which have long been regarded in military circles as currency of character.
"Medals are awarded," Green said Friday. "They're not won. It's not a contest. People who receive them aren't out there trying to win a medal. They're doing their job.
"I'm sick over that," Green said.
The 2006 Stolen Valor Act made it a crime to falsely claim to have received military honors. It earned an Alhambra High School graduate a year's probation for wearing a U.S. Marines uniform bedecked with medals that weren't his.
It was challenged by a Southern California man who was convicted of lying about receiving the Medal of Honor. Xavier Alvarez was fined $5,000 and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service.
The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, upheld a lower court's ruling that such false claims are protected under the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.
"I understand freedom of speech," said Green, an Alamo resident, "but I do not understand somebody getting away with what (Alvarez) is getting away with. He ought to be happy about one thing -- that I'm not his neighbor."
Walnut Creek's Frank Walden, a Navy corpsman wounded
"I've got a whole book of medals," he said. "I'm honored to have them. I wonder sometimes whether I deserve them."
He also wonders about people who claim military honors they haven't earned.
"You have to go through a lot to get the medals that you get," Walden said. "You're not just presented them. People who haven't done anything, they shouldn't (claim them)."
According to Jonathan Libby, Alvarez's attorney, 45 cases were sent to federal prosecutors under the Stolen Valor Act. Those who pleaded guilty or were convicted of lying about earning military honors can now petition to have their case vacated.
Less clear, Libby said, is the effect the decision will have on cases in which the accused actually wore the medals, since that part of the statute was not addressed. One such case originated in the East Bay in 2008 at a reunion of Alhambra High School's class of 1988. Navy Cmdr. Colleen Salonga became suspicious when former classmate Steven Burton showed up in a dress Marine uniform loaded with decorations. She had her picture taken with him and then reported Burton to the FBI. He pleaded guilty to falsely claiming receipt of military honors and received one year's probation.
Already, new legislation has been introduced in Congress to amend the Stolen Valor Act. The bill would make it a crime to lie about military honors if there was an intent to gain material benefit.
"It's something," Green said. "But still the fact remains that somebody is allowed to lie about receiving awards they did not receive in service to their country. Falsely claiming that you bled for your country or received any award you did not earn is a disgrace."
Active military members who wear awards they didn't earn can be charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The vigilante website www.reportstolenvalor.org reports possible unsubstantiated claims of military service and honors.
Walden knows of a World War II veteran who speaks at schools "claiming to do things he didn't do."
"That's kind of the same thing," he said, "It leaves a bad taste in the mouth for guys who did do the job."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.