The Rio Grande Valley, in deep South
Texas has a permanent population of less than 500,000 people. Within
those numbers is an abundance of active duty, retired and former
members of the armed forces. This Tip-of-Texas real estate is home
to many American heroes, including 20 young men who have given their
lives in the War against Terror. Sadly, it is also the home of some
who would steal the valor earned by these brave soldiers, sailors and
Marines with their blood and their lives.
In recent days an Associated Press story about a South Texas man
impersonating a Marine Sergeant Major has been in the news.
According the AP, “In appearances throughout the Rio Grande Valley,
J.C. Ortiz said his Marine career included four tours of duty in
Vietnam, seven Purple Hearts and ascendancy to the rank of Sergeant
Ortiz also claimed to have been awarded two Silver Star medals, two
Bronze Star medals and had served a total of 39 years in the armed
forces. This all fell apart when the McAllen Monitor confronted
him. The newspaper, which earlier had given Ortiz/Brown its
inaugural “Spirit of Freedom Award” for service in uniform, had
investigated his past after veterans voiced strong doubts about his
When everything was unraveled, Ortiz, who was born Gerrald J. Brown
was not even using his true name. Ortiz or Brown cannot claim
legitimate veteran status, let alone that of a heroic Marine Sergeant
Major with 39 years service. He was actually a Private who served 3
1/2 years in the Marine Corps, never served in Vietnam or outside the
United States and culminated a less than distinguished tour of duty
by going AWOL, deserting his post and being given an Undesirable
Discharge in 1962.
For several years, until his fraud was revealed, Oritz/Brown attended
veterans affairs, spoke at patriotic events, offered comfort to
grieving families and even awaited on the arrival of fallen service
personnel who had been killed in action while fighting in Iraq and
If this were an isolated incident, it would still be worthy of media
attention, public scorn and legal action. However, the Ortiz/Brown
case is far from being the story of a single pretender. Across the
United States there have been multiple cases of people impersonating
military officers and enlisted personnel. There have been claims of
heroic acts that have garnered these fraudulent warriors unearned
praise and adulation from communities in almost every state. In the
past ten years, the FBI has investigated more than 100 military
impersonation cases. At this time 20 such cases are under
And what is done when fake heroes are uncovered? Very little! There
are laws against impersonating military personnel by wearing an
unauthorized uniform. There are also laws against a person wearing
medals they have not been awarded. Even when the phony heroes are
caught courts don’t seem to think the offenses are serious breaches
of the public trust. . Current law calls for a maximum of six months
in jail and a $5,000 fine for impersonating military personnel or
wearing unauthorized medals. Those few who have been convicted of
such charges have seldom served time behind bars or even paid the
For example an Illinois district judge by the name of Michael O’Brien
displayed two Medals of Honor in his chambers. Everyone thought they
had one of the country’s greatest heroes in their midst. They were
wrong. The judge had not received a single MoH, let alone be awarded
two such medals, the nation’s highest recognition for military valor.
Was O’Brien punished for this fraud? No! It is legal in the United
States to buy, sell or trade medals or military apparel. It is legal
to display these items. Because the judge had only displayed the
medals in his office, no crime had been committed.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on July 2, 2006 wrote about a proposed
new law that targets those who steal the valor of military personnel
by fraud and/or impersonation.
“A bill- the Stolen Valor Act - making its way through Congress would
increase penalties for imposters and help prosecutors go after phonies.
“The bill introduced last year by Democratic Rep. John Salazar, of
Colorado, picked up 127 co-sponsors. A Senate version of the bill
got support on June 14 from Philadelphia Republican Arlen Spector,
whose support insiders say virtually guarantees the bill will make it
out of the Senate judiciary committee he chairs. Salazar has said he
expects the bill to move through congress before the session ends in
This new legislation would double current penalties, make the crime a
felony and allow prosecution not only for wearing the uniforms or
medals, but for falsely claiming either verbally or in writing to
have served, held rank or earned awards.
In the case of Ortiz/Brown it is most likely that little will happen
in the way of punishment. He is already claiming that the speeches
he made and the funerals he attended were all done to honor those who
had served their country or had fallen. He is trying desperately to
create sympathy in the community.
The issues that bother most veterans are Ortiz/Brown wearing seven
Purple Hearts and presenting himself to be a Marine Sergeant Major.
Sergeant Major or Master Gunnery Sergeant (E-9) are the most senior
enlisted ranks in the Marine Corps. Those who attain those positions
have dedicated themselves to multiple years of service, dedication to
duty, remote assignments, numerous courses of study and uncountable
hours of training. With few exceptions those of this rank have also
served across the United States and overseas…including combat.
To have a person who could not satisfactorily complete one term of
enlistment and earn an honorable discharge, a person who has failed
to embrace the Marine creed of Duty, Honor and Country portray
himself as an individual who had earned this rank and honor is beyond
reprehensible. Moreover, it diminishes the accomplishments of those
who earned the title and rank. For such an act Ortiz/Brown needs to
be more than castigated. He needs to be denunciated in the extreme
by all citizenry who hear of his fraud.
All who have faced enemy forces on behalf of America should reserve
their greatest contempt for the false claim of earning seven Purple
The Purple Heart is the oldest recognition of valor in the armed
forces. It was established by General George Washington on August 7,
1782 and is awarded by the President of the United States only to
those who have been wounded in action against the enemy or were
killed in action.
When Ortiz/Brown stood in front of those grieving families as they
buried their husbands and sons he was wearing a ribbon representing
multiple Purple Heart awards. This is the same small purple medal
those families received from the government as a token of the life
taken all too soon. For Ortiz/Brown to wear the same decoration is
more than just a fraud or stolen valor. It is an abomination.