Unmasking phony heroes

The unmasking of a half-dozen phony heroes in recent months is spurring support for the creation of a national database that contains the names of those who have received the nation’s highest military honors.

As it stands now, there is an official list only of Medal of Honor awardees, but none for those who have earned the service crosses, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts or other top medals. That makes it difficult to uncover anyone who poses as a recipient by wearing medals one can purchase for a few bucks on the Internet.

The only roster of rightful recipients now is kept by Doug Sterner, a devoted volunteer in Colorado who even the Pentagon turns to sometimes to verify awards to combat heroes.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart calls the absence of an official list “a national shame” and has pulled out the stops to rally support for the “Military Valor Roll of Honor Act,” sponsored by Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., which would establish a database the public, investigators, prosecutors and others could search.

The cost of the bottomless pit of overruns better known as the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center has gone up again, putting it on a trajectory toward a price tag triple the $265 million originally projected.

Ground was broken for construction of the enormous underground complex in 2000. After the 9/11 attacks, its purpose was broadened from being a welcome center for tourists to serving as a more secure entry to the Capitol building. The original completion date was December 2004. That slipped steadily, as one problem after another cropped up.

Now, the Architect of the Capitol says the drop-dead opening date is November 2008. And the final bill will be $621 million.

That actually brought applause from assorted House members happy that the center’s completion is firmly fixed on the horizon. But they’ve heard that before.

Congress’ only bona-fide former rock star is joining with other aging music icons from three decades past for an upcoming Kumbaya op at the Washington National Cathedral.

Former Orleans band founder John Hall, now a bald freshman Democratic congressman from New York, will take the stage Oct. 16 for a “Pray For Peace” concert with David Crosby and Graham Nash, who when part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young provided part of the soundtrack for the Vietnam War protests.

Also appearing will be ’70s songster Jackson Browne and transcendental musician Krishna Das, with proceeds from the event going to the Cathedral Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation and the International Campaign for Tibet. Group Buddhist chants are promised.

In low-Earth orbit — less than 1,250 miles up — what goes up often doesn’t come down, at least not for a long time. There could be at least 14,000 chunks of debris larger than 4 inches across, according to an estimate by the European Space Agency.

About 2,000 bits of that potentially dangerous trash were created when China tested a new weapon by blowing up one of its own small satellites in January, the Union of Concerned Scientists think tank said in a new report.

That act drew a swift rebuke from Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, who heads the U.S. Space Command. “It was irresponsible,” said Chilton, who has been nominated to take charge of the U.S. Strategic Command.

A former NASA astronaut and shuttle pilot, Chilton told an Air Force Association conference this past week in Washington that all the windows on the spacecraft he flew had to be replaced because of damage from detritus the size of paint flecks. Larger pieces could be much more hazardous, he said.

Between 2002 and the end of 2006, the U.S. military received 425 applications from active-duty and part-time troops asking for conscientious-objector status because their moral or religious beliefs made them opposed to bearing arms, government auditors reported this past week. Of those, 224 were approved, 188 were denied and 13 were pending or incomplete.

The active-duty Army received the most requests (181), followed by the Marine Corps Reserves (50); Air Force (45); Marine Corps (43); Army Reserve (36); Navy (31); Army National Guard (26); Air National Guard (five); Air Force Reserve (four); Coast Guard (three); and Coast Guard Reserve (one), according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

(Scripps national correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)

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