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CLAY, N.Y. — The president of the Korean War Veterans Association admitted Wednesday that he wore combat medals belonging to his late brother to several public functions, including some with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
James Ferris, of the Syracuse suburb of Clay, said he offered to resign as president but the offer was rejected.
Ferris was a Marine who served in the United States and Japan in administrative roles with an engineering battalion during the war. Among the honors he wore publicly, including in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, were the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Occupation Service Medal and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross.
The Syracuse Post-Standard was first to report Ferris’ admission. The concerns were first aired in April on a website run by veterans who track false claims of valor.
“I shouldn’t have worn my brother’s medals,” he told The Associated Press by phone. “I made a mistake. I’ve admitted it. I’m extremely sorry for it.”
Of his brother, Frank Ferris, who he said died in the 1990s, he said: “He was a good Marine.”
At the height of the Iraq War in 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law making it a crime for anyone to wear military medals that they had not earned. In 2012, the Supreme Court struck it down as a violation of the First Amendment.
Congress quickly acted with a new proposal, the Stolen Valor Act, which would make it a crime to lie about military service or make false claims about receiving military medals with the intent of benefiting from those claims. It would specifically exempt from punishment those who simply wear military medals or decorations that do not belong to them. A House version of the bill is ready for a vote while similar legislation is currently working its way through the U.S. Senate.
Ferris, 81, says he never tried to use the medals to get benefits such as Veterans Administration health care that he didn’t deserve.
“I didn’t get anything for this,” he said. “You’d have to be cheating like using the VA or getting some compensation by lying about your service. I don’t use the VA, I don’t get anything.”
The Syracuse newspaper also found that Ferris misstated his service in Korea and served in the states and Japan during the war.
The 15,000-member KWVA, chartered by Congress in 2008, was formed as a charitable entity to “organize, promote and maintain for benevolent and charitable purposes an association of persons who have seen honorable service during the Korean War” defined as from June 25, 1950, to January 1955.
Ferris offered to resign, but Larry Kinard, the organization’s first vice president, said the board of directors rejected the offer. Ferris will remain president through June 2014.
“He’s been an excellent president for our organization and we feel like he should stay in office and continue to do the good work he’s been doing,” Kinard said from his home in Mansfield, Texas. “I think he made a mistake and we’re sad about that, but we don’t think that’s enough to discredit him in the eyes of what we’re doing.”
Ferris told the AP he was humbled by the board’s decision.
“I’m pretty happy they have that much faith in me,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for the Korean War Veterans Association. Very hard.”