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Florida man wears medal without honor

Stern December 4, 1996
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Robert Vito

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- Wherever 67-year-old Jackie Stern went in this south Florida community, he brought along his Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress to military personnel who have risked life in combat beyond the call of duty.

Speeches to Gulf War veterans, war stories at police stations and appearances at public occasions were all ripe moments for Stern to share his heroic past.

The only problem with Stern's highly visible patriotism is that he was living a lie. He had not earned the Medal of Honor -- he had bought it.

"He marched around in parades. He came around reviewing ROTC troops, even coming in here to get photographed wearing the medal," said Sgt. Dan Ciacciarelli of the Broward County Sheriff's Department. "He's pretty brazen."

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For nearly 10 years, Stern bragged he had won the medal for bravery in the Korean War. He even went so far as to include a prisoner of war tag on the front of his car and a license plate on the back bearing a purple heart.

But in real military life, 'Captain' Jack Stern never made it past private.

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Eventually Stern's public displays provoked suspicion among some in the community. His tall tale unraveled when police learned he had never even set foot on a continent where the U.S. was involved in a conflict.

Faced with the truth, Stern pleaded guilty to federal charges involving the unearned medal of honor.

In a federal courtroom, the former bread truck driver and polygraph operator apologized to veterans. He said his actions had been stupid and pitiful.

His son blamed his father's behavior on a massive stroke in 1985 that left him partially paralyzed.

Stern said he bought the medal at a military show for $800. The medal turned out to be authentic but not officially issued.

Stern could have been sentenced to six months in jail; instead, the judge placed him on one year's probation and ordered him to write letters of apology to the 171 surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor.

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Reaction in Stern's community was perhaps harsher than the court's sentence.

"He did make a mockery of the highest medal this nation has to offer," said veteran Bill DeClemente.

"He made a fool of the whole community," added one woman who did not want to be identified. "Justice has to be done."


 
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