It’s unclear whether John Dietz is eligible to wear any or all 27 of the military ribbons he claims he was awarded. There’s no doubt, however, that many people claiming such awards are heels, not heroes.

“This faked thing, it’s an epidemic,” said John Hoellwarth, a former Marine who now writes for Marine Times. The issue is a sensitive one for current and former military, particularly with ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea that anyone would wear what soldiers call “valor awards” without having taken the risks and suffered the consequences that earned them galls many veterans.

“My experience is that Marines take this issue very, very seriously,” said Hoellwarth. “They have a great degree of respect for those who’ve earned valor awards. Conversely, they express shock and outrage when they read about people who demean the integrity of those awards.”

1st Lt. Rob Dolan, a spokesman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, VA, used much harsher language in a July 19, 2006 interview with Marine Times.

“Military imposters are cowards that use the sacrifice made on a daily basis by Armed Forces personnel throughout the world in an attempt to gain clout, prestige, or recognition,” Dolan, said. “Reality catches up to their lies eventually, and their false world is destroyed.”

Those who illegally claim valor awards can now be charged with a felony under the “Stolen Valor Act” signed into law last year.

Hoellswarth, who contacted Wednesday Journal to obtain a high resolution photo of Dietz’s medals to study, said that while there’s no “smoking gun” incriminating Dietz, there’s much that doesn’t add up.

“Nothing screams ‘fake,’ ” Hoellwarth said, “but a lot of different things are suspicious.”

Dietz purports to have earned medals for serving as both a Drill Instructor and a Recruiter. Hoellwarth said that is highly unusual.

“Usually, you serve as one or the other,” he said. Hoellwarth also said that the Vietnam campaign ribbon Dietz shows indicates four tours in Vietnam, not three. The ribbon itself indicates service, and each star above it indicates an additional tour. Dietz’s ribbon has three stars on it.

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