Purple Heart denied?
November 29, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Is it true that a soldier, wounded while operating covertly, is not eligible for a Purple Heart? I fellow I met told me he was Special Forces and was shot through the arm while patrolling a communist border in '83, someplace the government would later deny being. He didn't recieve his Purple Heart because the mission was top secret and would have to be revealed on the paperwork required to apply for the medal. Is he pulling my leg, or what?
posted by Acacia to Law & Government (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Pentagon lists qualifications for the Purple Heart here:

3. Criteria: a. The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of an Armed Force who, while serving with the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded;

(1) In any action against an enemy of the United States;

(2) In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged;

(3) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party;

(4) As a result of an act of any such enemy of opposing armed forces;

(5) As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force;

(6) After 28 March 1973, as a result of an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of the department concerned, or jointly by the Secretaries of the departments concerned if persons from more than one department are wounded in the attack; or,

(7) After 28 March 1973, as a result of military operations, while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.

(8) After 7 December 1941, by weapon fire while directly engaged in armed conflict, regardless of the fire causing the wound.

(9) While held as a prisoner of war or while being taken captive.

Do you have any more details about how your friend was wounded?
posted by up in the old hotel at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2008

Sounds like a heck of a pick up line, but I doubt it's any more than that. A quick search for "purple heart" +covert shows that many many thousands of Purple Hearts have been awarded for conduct on covert missions.
posted by rokusan at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2008

...including, apparently, John Kerry's (in)famous one.
posted by rokusan at 4:24 PM on November 29, 2008

Response by poster: He and a few other troops were patrolling the Czechoslovakia border at night watching a border post in order to relay information. They made a noise in the woods and one of the Czechs fired a random shot in the dark, which found its target in this fellows arm. It was a through-n-through. He was able to hike out for medical help without making a sound.
Could it be that the Purple Heart was denied because at the time Czechoslovakia was not considered an ememy country?
posted by Acacia at 4:36 PM on November 29, 2008

Czechoslovakia was a part of the Warsaw Pact in 1983 and was most definitely not a friendly country from a US perspective.
posted by rodgerd at 4:49 PM on November 29, 2008

Did you see the scar?
posted by rancidchickn at 4:50 PM on November 29, 2008

I'm going to vote for Bullshit for a few reasons.

One, as others have noted, you can get a purple heart for being wounded on a covert mission.

Two, well. Let me note that I ain't military. But why the hell would they have special forces watching a Czech border post (unless they're watching it from the wrong side or from the DDR)? You can stick a completely open observation station there and there's positively fuck-all the Czechs can do about it.

Three, it seems unlikely to me that orders to Czech border troops, knowing full well that NATO troops could easily be doing perfectly legitimate business on the other side of the border, would have orders to SHOOT WILDLY AT ANY NOISE YOU HEAR. This doesn't mean a Czech soldier can't fuck up, of course.

Even if it is bullshit, I wouldn't necessarily hold that against him. Military bullshit is a pastime practiced for generations with the blessings of the elders.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can easily imagine a Special Forces patrol in 1983 reconnotering a Czech border post. I find the part about not being eligible not so believable.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

As lies go, "I was in the Special Forces" is apparently one of the more common ones. People tell this lie all the time to get chicks, free beers, and that sort of thing.

I do remember reading a website set up by real Special Forces people to help expose such liars, but I don't remember where it was. Here is a bulletin board post that sort of sums up the consensus opinion on this kind of thing.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:29 PM on November 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Every jagoff wannabe claims Special Forces. If I heard this story I would conclude that he probably wasn't even in the military.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2008

I can easily imagine a Special Forces patrol in 1983 reconnotering a Czech border post

Really? Why would you waste Green Berets on that?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:49 PM on November 29, 2008

Think about that car salesman in "True Lies".
posted by plexi at 5:52 PM on November 29, 2008

Micah Wright claimed to be Special Forces. So did Jesse Macbeth.
posted by Class Goat at 6:00 PM on November 29, 2008

It's bullshit.

He was a poseur. He was trying to get in your pants.

If this guy was even in the military at all, I suspect he was the assistant third class corporal in charge of mop duty.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:01 PM on November 29, 2008

Best answer: American Psychiatric Association on military records.

In the course of extensive research using military personnel records that spanned the past 15 years and covered thousands of individuals (1), the first author (BGB) has never known of a military personnel record falsified by the government to conceal covert or any other activities. That is not how covert activities are handled in individual veterans' military personnel records. Even though some operations during the Vietnam War were classified, the documentation for those operations was thorough and is included in personnel records as "Top Secret." No military personnel would risk their career undertaking an operation with no supporting documents. Furthermore, virtually all such records were declassified years ago.

Information related to an individual's military training, duty assignments, and so forth is never classified. Although personnel files would not describe a specific secret mission in which military personnel participated, personal data would not be changed to hide the general character of the military duty—for example as a fighter pilot, Green Beret, or Force Recon. In addition, all personal decorations indicating participation in combat, such as the Silver Star, Combat Action Ribbon, and Purple Heart, would be listed in an individual's record. The record of a man who was a Green Beret assigned to 5th Special Forces in Vietnam would never be doctored to show he was a cook.

For example, Fred Zabitosky, a Green Beret, was awarded a Medal of Honor for a secret mission in Laos. His Special Forces training and combat decorations were clearly documented in his personnel record. The Medal of Honor citation did not mention Laos, but "Southeast Asia." Years later, after declassification, he had his record officially changed to show "Laos." At no time did his personnel records show anything false.

Many phony combat heroes depend on gullible and well-intentioned clinicians accepting their claims that military records were changed to conceal covert operations. We agree with Dr. Henderson that memories of any kind, including traumatic memories, are unreliable over time. We also agree that it would be a great help to VA clinicians to have easy access to military records documenting whether or not veterans were exposed to traumatic experiences. Certainly, the VA could make it easier for clinicians to conduct better background checks via computerized database searches. Fortunately, reasonably accurate and reliable historical information is available about most veterans' military experiences, including combat activities (covert or otherwise), through the National Military Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63132-5100.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2008 [9 favorites]

Uh, American Psychiatric Association article, that is.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2008

In my experience living in a navy town that is also host to five seal teams, most special forces folks dont talk a lot about being special forces folks...the few exceptions i know of usually involve lots of alcohol and then only minor details come out.
posted by wavering at 6:25 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I'll tell you a story about my dad's friend, another Vietnam vet. He was a Green Beret, quartered in Laos. Except, see, that nobody was stationed in Laos, because it was a non-combatant third party.

Except, of course, that the VC used it as a sidebar on the Ho Chi Minh trail, and had a very active military presence there. So, the GB's would do their best to get in the way of any VC operations they could, often coming in via air on covert missions and then extracting back across the border.

Only this never happened, because it was classified.

On one of the jumps, he broke his leg, and evacuated himself back into Laos, where he was treated but remained in-country. Eventually his tour was over and he came home, etc etc.

Fast forward to the early 2000's, and he's got some serious leg pain, so he goes to the VA. The VA looks at his leg and sees that it's the source of his pain and disability, so they tell him he needs to get it treated, which they do, and they advise him to apply for Veterans Disability benefits, because he told them it was as a result of injuries he sustained in country.

So, he gets a very very angry letter and phone call stating that he will NOT be covered and that they are considering diciplinary action because 1) there is no record of the injury and 2)he is not veteran because he didn't go to Vietnam, and he'd lied about it.

So he requests his DD-214 to prove his point. It's not on there. The Green Beret training is there, but neither the encampment nor any of his missions are there. He doesn't exist.

Really long story really short, he managed to get in contact with his old Commander who was only verbally able to tell the VA rep that he HAD indeed been stationed in Laos and that the files would cease to be confidential at some point, and even then it took the intervention of a high ranking officer to get him his benefits.

Long story short, yea, it's possible. Lots of things are standardized in the military, but nothing is ever always any more than always is ever never.
posted by TomMelee at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2008 [7 favorites]

Real Special Forces dudes generally don't brag about stuff.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2008

Yes, I'll have to pile on that skepticism about "special forces" claims is perfectly reasonable.

I had a gear-head friend of many years who claimed to be a Navy Seal involved with cryptography. Surprisingly, he never talked about all the swimming that Seals are required to do. One morning I shared something I had learned about prime numbers with him. I said "I understand prime numbers are used in cryptography. When you were a Seal, were you involved in the hardware domain or the software domain?"

The befuddled answer that totally shied away from answering such a simple and direct question, plus the look on his face told me everything. I knew he was a liar, and this was the beginning of the end of our friendship.

Weirdly, though he claimed to have been in the Navy, and I believe he actually was, he didn't know what a "bollard" was...
posted by Tube at 8:32 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

TomMelee, it's also possible that:

(1) This didn't go down like your dad's friend told your dad.
(2) Your dad didn't faithfully and accurately report what he was told to you.
(3) Your dad's friend's records were just fucked up for some normal reason, and not because his career was DOUBLE SECRET CLASSIFIED.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:54 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Relating to TomMelee's story, the US involvement in Laos is not only common knowledge, it factored into the campaign of a nominee for US President. Also, I easily found a book written over ten years ago based on declassified documents about that involvement. I'm much more inclined to the military-records-being-commonly-fucked-up end of things on that story than to mission classification leading to denial of benefits.

I can only just slightly maybe perhaps believe that we had Special Forces poking around in Austria to scout the Czech border, since Austria was not a member of NATO and officially neutral, meaning anything we did (and I have no doubt we did) to keep tabs on the Warsaw Pact there would have been an international incident if discovered. It would be interesting to learn how they avoided discovery by the Bundesheer, but again I imagine that such things did happen. I think it's far more likely that we would have used CIA cut-outs for such things as opposed to SF, though. (Consider the relative ease of obtaining actual Austrian information about its own border.) I'm also skeptical of the random gunfire, because the Austrian border was notably less fortified and tense than the German/Czech and East/West German borders.

a website set up by real Special Forces people to help expose such liars

Phonies and Wannabes
Hunting the Phonies
Impostor News

The real guys hate the phonies. The real guys tend to be reticent; you'd be surprised how many phonies are discovered because they tell their stories so often they get into the newspaper.
posted by dhartung at 10:34 PM on November 29, 2008

This guy's full of it. Pure Rambo/Delta Force fantasy. If every guy I met who claimed to be Special Forces actually WAS Special Forces, the sheer weight of numbers would make me think everyone in a uniform is Special Forces.

My best friend and her husband are career military, as are most of their friends. They have jobs that involve a lot of stuff that probably is officially or unofficially not for public consumption. I've known my best friend since we were both 8, and we trust each other completely. If I called her and told her that I had a dead body in my living room that I needed to dispose of, she'd be there to help me, no questions asked. Even so, there are things she'd never tell me about her job, and I'd never put her in the position of having to lie to me or shut me down. Not that I'm really that interested in that part of her job - I'm more interested in her and her family, really.

Some guy who tells you all sorts of things about missions, injuries, locations, etc is either extremely stupid, drunk, crazy, or just trying really hard to get into your pants... but the genuine article he ain't.
posted by Grrlscout at 1:16 AM on November 30, 2008

Really? Why would you waste Green Berets on that?

Because they very often do recon missions. Back then, according to a good friend who served a stint in a regular old armored division, the two sides played a lot of cat and mouse and practiced playing the roles they would play should there be an actual war. His first night in the field, the Soviets rushed the border with dozens of tanks, lights blazing, while he was the only person awake in his armored personnel carrier. He couldn't believe World War III was about to start on his first night ever in the field. His sergeant opened one eye and saw my friend getting the machine gun on the APC ready to fire. He told my buddy to stand down and they watched as the tanks rushed the border and, in unison, took a sharp turn right up to the line. Apparently they did it three nights a week for practice.

So it is totally not unusual for Army Special Forces to do that.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:54 AM on November 30, 2008

If by "routine fuckup" you mean "we're not putting this here now but we'll get back to it later oh shit I accidentally retired first", then sure---but I am absolutely without question certain that these things often are left off of DD-214's and at some point cause some degree of concern for guys later on in life. We're also talking 30+ years ago's technology and communication, versus the significantly different setup today.

Also, yes, US presence in Laos is well known now, was probably well known then, but was certainly not formally admitted to.

There's lot of books now about stuff that happened in any given war/conflict/occupation that are generally accepted as true but that the official government stance is "never happened."

I'm also really glad that you guys know this guy and have been around him, talked to him, and seen the obvious effects of the war on him. And yea, I've seen some of his paperwork and I've met guys from his unit. Veterans Day in the Capital is a powerful thing.

They didn't deny that he had been in the service. They didn't deny that he had been in the service during Vietnam. They denied Veteran status because he hadn't been a combatant, at least according to his paperwork.
posted by TomMelee at 8:01 AM on November 30, 2008

TomMelee, I may not know this friend of yours, but I do know someone who works at the VA -- a place where being ten years behind the curve technologically is cutting edge.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2008

I have a family member who was wounded while on a covert operation in South East Asia during the Viet Nam war. He got a Purple Heart, and is now receiving care through the VA. If someone has trouble getting care through the VA, they should contact their Congressional Rep. My family member is getting good care, which he really needs.
posted by theora55 at 3:31 PM on December 1, 2008

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