A Marshalltown Navy veteran received one of the nation's highest military honors in June, but multiple military groups are now questioning whether he earned that honor or fabricated documents to get it. (The Des Moines Register)
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A Marshalltown Navy veteran received one of the nation's highest military honors in June, but multiple military groups are now questioning whether he earned that honor or fabricated documents to get it.
Dennis William Myers, who was awarded a Silver Star Medal by Sen. Tom Harkin's office, provided the senator's office with an unsigned and undated certificate to show he should receive the medal. Jerry Newberry, the assistant adjutant general of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars, reviewed that document and said it was "definitely bogus" and "not even close to the real thing."
Myers flatly denies that he duped Harkin's office into presenting him with the honor. He told The Des Moines Register he was part of a covert mission, which is why some of his records are not listed in public military records.
Other military advocates also questioned his story.
"In my opinion, it's 100 percent bogus, and I feel he ought to be prosecuted for it," said Mary Schantag, chairwoman of the POW Network, an educational nonprofit based in Missouri. "He lied to a senator, and he reproduced an official certificate, and the forging of military documents is a crime."
Myers, 64, initially told the Register the certificate he submitted to Harkin's office came from Navy personnel records, but then he said it came from the American War Library, a private business in California. Business officials refused to identify themselves when contacted by the Register and would not answer questions about how they verify military service awards before they issue certificates.
Myers' type of certification can be purchased and emailed for as little as $9.50, according to the website.
"Everybody can call me a liar and all that stuff but, hey, I know. I was there," Myers said.
Members of Harkin's staff did not answer questions over the past week about how or whether they had attempted to verify the authenticity of the documents with official military records. The senator's office took part in a ceremony at the Iowa Veterans Home in June, where staffer Amy Beller pinned the award on Myers' jacket.
Doug Sterner, curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, contacted Harkin's staff soon after that ceremony. Sterner oversees a searchable database of military honors from the U.S. armed services and requests verification before adding information to the site.
When he saw the unsigned certificate provided by Harkin's office, Sterner began to raise questions.
Sterner also closely read an article about the ceremony published by the Times-Republican newspaper in Marshalltown, which quoted Myers recounting the 1971 death of Marine Cpl. Mike Kelling, whom he said he served with in a Southeast Asia mission.
Sterner reviewed several military databases of death records and confirmed with the U.S. Marine Corps that no one named Mike Kelling was killed in Vietnam. He located a Mike Kelling who currently lives in Illinois and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1963.
That Kelling told the Register he'd never served overseas, nor had he met Myers.
When asked about that, Myers told the Register the name was spelled incorrectly in the Marshalltown newspaper and should be Keeling. Sterner's further checks with the Marine Corps found no Mike or Michael Keeling killed in Vietnam. The closest name was a man named Larry Keeling, who died two years before the mission Myers described to the Marshalltown newspaper.
There is no deceased person by that name on the Vietnam War Memorial, according to a searchable online database from the National Park Service.
Military records, obtained by Sterner Aug. 19 through the National Personnel Records Center, indicate Myers was on active duty in the Navy in August 1968 and July 1972. He received multiple awards, including a Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Stars. No Silver Star was listed.
Myers told the Register that — because he was part of undercover operations — his record had to be updated. He said the Silver Star was added to his military records in December 2013 and advised the Register to get a copy of the specific service record that he provided to Harkin's office.
The Register made multiple requests to Harkin's office for a copy of that specific record. Instead, Harkin staffer Mandy McClure sent a statement saying the senator has helped more than 600 Iowa veterans obtain service medals in the last five years. To obtain them, Iowans must provide information and documents, she said.
McClure noted that in some cases — including Myers' — the staff presents a medal that has already been received but not officially presented.
Scott Levins, director of the National Personnel Records Center, said it's possible an updated military record could take months to be reflected in the information provided by his center. It's been nine months since Myers said his record was updated to reflect him as a recipient of the Silver Star. Levins' office is continuing to research the issue.
Meanwhile, military veterans and supporters who run a blog called "This Ain't Hell" have posted the records under the headline "Dennis Myers Dupes Senator Harkin's Staff."
Both Schantag and Sterner have come to the same conclusion.
"They're destroying history," Schantag said. "The Internet is recording all of this, and 50 years from now nobody is going to know which one of these awards is legitimate or not. There's no evidence to show this man ever earned that award, but for those who did, it sure screws that up."