Local man under fire for Silver Star award

A Marshalltown man and U.S. Navy veteran has come under intense scrutiny following an article in the Des Moines Register and allegations by a military-related organization who are challenging his statement that he received a Silver Star Medal earned from combat in Vietnam.

Dennis William Myers, 64, a former Petty Officer 3rd Class, was officially, but belatedly presented the Silver Star for individual gallantry displayed in combat in Vietnam by Amy Beller, a case worker for Sen. Tom Harkin at the Iowa Veterans Home on June 19.

However, the U.S. Navy confirmed to the Register Wednesday that there are “unexpected irregularities” in Myers’ paperwork.

“Senator Harkin intends to ensure that the Navy completes a full investigation, arrives at the true historical record and that appropriate sanctions are issued, if warranted,” his spokeswoman Susannah Cernojevich said Wednesday.

The June 19 award was based on documentation provided to Harkin’s office from Myers, related to his action in Vietnam in February 1971, when Myers said he had been assigned to accompany a surveillance team which traveled to Laos. Its mission: To identify Surface to Air Missiles sites used by the North Vietnamese against American air forces.

The team came under an intense rocket attack.

Myers said he disregarded his own personal safety to lay down fire to insure that members of his squad could escape.

The award was made belatedly because Myers said he was scheduled to receive the award in Vietnam, but put off the award because he was anxious to return to the United States on a scheduled military flight.

The IVH ceremony was covered in a front-page story which appeared in the June 20 Times-Republican.

The investigation comes within hours after publication of a Register article Tuesday highlighting several military groups or advocates who allege Myers provided Harkin with bogus documentation showing him as a recipient of the Silver Star medal.

Questions began to fly soon after the June 19 event when Doug Sterner, the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, attempted to fact check Myers’ background before adding him to a searchable online directory of military honors provided to readers of the site.

Sterner immediately believed a certificate Myers provided to Harkin was a fake. The certificate is unsigned, undated and does not have an accompanying letter of support. Such certificates are signed by a top-ranking military official or the U.S. President, Sterner said.

Documents obtained from Sterner and other military groups from 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. But no Silver Star was listed.

Myers told The Register and the T-R in interviews that much of his military record doesn’t appear on written documents because he was part of undercover operations. He said his record was updated to reflect the Silver Star in December 2013 even though that’s not reflected in the records provided Aug. 19 by the National Personnel Records Center.

However, Myers presented the T-R with a copy of DD Form 215 which lists a Silver Star Medal awarded.

Myers initially told The Register that he obtained the certificate presented to Harkin from Navy personnel. But he later told the paper the certificate was sent to him by the American War Library, a private business in California that allows people to purchase the certificates.

Officials from the company 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.

Harkin’s office last week did not directly answer questions about what – if any checks they previously conducted before accepting the documentation provided by Myers as factual, according to The Register.

When contacted by the T-R on Aug. 28, Beller said she had seen a copy of Myers’ Dec. 23 DD Form 215 showing the Silver Star medal award.

The Register, with the help of Sterner and the POW Network, also found that public records did not substantiate Myers’ report about a comrade – Mike Kelling – who died alongside of him in 1971. The names of different men provided by Myers in recounting that story are not recorded as Vietnam casualties, records show.

However, Myers, who said he is on 100 percent disability from debilitating effects from Agent Orange – said after the June 19 ceremony that he was unsure about the correct spelling of Kelling’s name.

He also previously asserted that he is a Silver Star Medal recipient to U.S. Congress members in a letter dated Jan. 27, 2011 in advocacy of The Agent Orange Act, according to a letter Sterner obtained in a public records search.

In that 2011 letter Myers described himself as “a Blue Water Navy and boots-on-the-ground Vietnam veteran” who is a Silver Star recipient “not of my own choosing.”

Myers told the T-R he has spent much of his free time working on behalf of fellow Vietnam veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange.

Myers did not return a call to the T-R by press time Wednesday seeking comment on the allegations.

He told the T-R last week that he had earned the medal, and that people questioning his statements “should experience being pinned down by enemy fire because the South Vietnamese were not providing cover.”