Phony Purple Heart Promotion Draws Ire

Want to land a bridesmaid? Carry a few fake Purple Hearts around and crash a wedding. That’s one of many tactics in the movie “Wedding Crashers” used by actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson to win over the ladies. But the idea crosses the line for some veterans and members of Congress, who will introduce legislation Friday to make such an act a federal offense.

What most bothers Hershel Gober, former deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs and member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, about the film so far _ he hasn’t seen it yet _ is New Line Cinema’s Web site, because it offers fans a “Crasher Kit” complete with a “make your own” Purple Heart.

“Carrying a Purple Heart in your jacket guarantees you attention, admiration and plenty of free booze,” the promotion site reads. “To get one of these babies, some dudes have to prove their physical, mental and spiritual strength with great feats of bravery on the battlefield. All you need to do is press the button below.”

“It blew my stack,” said Gober, who earned a Purple Heart in 1969 in the Mekong Delta when, as an Army company commander, he injured by a booby trap.

“I have no problem with spoofs,” he said. “But we’re trying to protect the medals.”

Gober is worried that “Wedding Crashers” will lead to a surge of people falsely claiming military honors. Already, he said, “wannabes” buy Purple Hearts from pawnshops to gain some of the renewed appreciation U.S. war heroes are receiving because of sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s a class B misdemeanor to falsely wear a Medal of Honor, but there are no similar protections for Distinguished Service medals, Silver or Bronze Stars or the Purple Heart.

It is also not illegal to falsely claim a military honor on a resume or to possess and display unearned medals. In one case in 1995, Illinois District Judge Michael O’Brian was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had not earned the two Medals of Honor he displayed in his courtroom. His fakery was discovered when he tried to obtain a Purple Heart license plate for his car. But there was no possibility for prosecution, said FBI agent Tom Cottone.

That would change under the legislation to be introduced Friday by Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., an Army veteran. He is introducing the “Stolen Valor Act,” which would extend misdemeanor charges to the other medals and make it illegal to falsely claim military honors.

“With the recent release of the popular movie “Wedding Crashers”, Hollywood has stumbled upon the serious problem of phony medal recipients,” Salazar’s office said in a news release. “Salazar’s legislation would place criminal penalties on those who claim to have risked their lives for our country, restoring honor to those who have truly earned it.”

New Line Cinema had no comment.

(Contact Tara Copp at coppt(at)