In his campaign literature, Calumet Park Mayor Joseph DuPar touted his decorated service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
"As a Sergeant in the military, I received the Medal of Honor with (4) Bronze Stars for my Leadership," his campaign flier states.That claim has sparked a rancorous political fight and allegations in court papers that the south suburban mayor has invented or embellished his military record to make himself look like a hero.
Abe Wilson, who lost in last spring's election, states in response to a defamation lawsuit filed by DuPar that the mayor violated the Stolen Valor Act, a federal law signed in 2006 that made it illegal to lie about military honors. Those convicted face up to a year in jail or a fine of as much as $100,000.
DuPar's military records, which the Tribune obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration, do not list the Medal of Honor, the military's highest decoration.
Victoria Kueck, director of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, confirmed DuPar is not a Medal of Honor recipient.
"We only have 91 living recipients," and there's a file on each one since the Civil War, Kueck said.
DuPar, 69, declined to show his medals or discuss them, and his attorney did not respond to requests to set up a meeting to view DuPar's medals.
In a telephone interview, the mayor said, "All I put on my campaign literature is what was on my discharge papers."
But his discharge paper, which the mayor said he distributed throughout tiny Calumet Park last year to counter Wilson's accusations, also does not list the Medal of Honor.
DuPar said he never claimed to have received the prestigious Medal of Honor, but he would not explain why his campaign flier said he received one.
DuPar's military records and his discharge paper also say he received a Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars -- not Bronze Star medals, which soldiers receive for acts of bravery.
Other decorations the mayor received include the National Defense Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, records show.
Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and a Stolen Valor investigator, said the awards on DuPar's discharge paper are participation medals, not medals of valor.
Bronze Service Stars are awarded to soldiers who participate in the military, and they can receive a star for each campaign, meaning a battle or length of time they're in combat, said Mary Schantag, who investigates fraudulent claims of military honors.
The spat between DuPar and Wilson began more than a year ago after Wilson, 64, a retired Marine, cast doubt on DuPar's claims of valor in his own campaign flier and in a letter to a local paper, where he questioned whether DuPar was a "war hero."
"Did MAYOR JOSEPH DuPAR Really earn a MEDAL OF HONOR and FOUR BRONZE STARS ????," Wilson's campaign flier said. "He has misled us in so many other areas, maybe he is misleading us again."
Four months after the April 2009 election, in which DuPar received 63 percent of the vote, the mayor filed his defamation lawsuit against Wilson. He is seeking $50,000 in damages for suffering emotional distress, embarrassment and the loss of his reputation in Calumet Park, court records show.
"Have him prove it," DuPar told the Tribune of Wilson's allegations.
In court records, DuPar said Wilson's campaign flier was false because DuPar "did in fact earn four Bronze Stars Medals."
The mayor did not address in his complaint Wilson's accusation that DuPar falsely claimed to have received the Medal of Honor.
DuPar was trained as a sharpshooter and served on active duty from 1967 to 1969, records show. Some of his assignments in Vietnam included heavy equipment operator, cargo handler and longshoreman helper, records show.
Without referring to DuPar's case specifically, watchdogs said exaggerating military honors is rampant nationwide. Schantag called it an "epidemic" fueled by an adrenaline rush and said people who fake military decorations often continue to do so for years. A Tribune investigation in 2008 documented scores of false claims across the country made by individuals ranging from clergy to CEOs.
Sterner, who built the Hall of Valor database that lists thousands of verified valor award recipients, fields up to 30 new cases a week about people suspected of fraudulently claiming military decorations. About 55 people have been prosecuted for false valor claims, but most have not received stiff punishments, Sterner said.
"In my years of working with this, I have only found one common theme in the Stolen Valor cases," Sterner said. "It almost always goes beyond pretending to be something you weren't and gets into areas of fraud ... whether it's to get some political leverage for political office, whether it's to take advantage of other people for money or to get a free drink in a bar."