SAN DIEGO—Following his guilty plea in 2008 and subsequent incarceration for possession of child pornography, Vietnam War veteran Wade Sanders has had his Silver Star revoked by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. However, the reason for the revocation, which the Marine Corps Times calls “highly unusual,” may or may not have been related to the conviction. The Navy has thus far refused to say what prompted the review of Sanders’ Silver Star, which was awarded him over 20 years ago, or the reason it was taken away.
If Sanders’ name sounds familiar, it should. The former swift-boat captain once served as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs, and during the 2004 presidential campaign was a frequent spokesperson for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was being aggressively attacked at the time by other swift-boat veterans who claimed the senator had exaggerated his wartime exploits.
Sanders pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of possession of child pornography. The 70-year-old is currently serving out a 37-month sentence at a minimum-security federal penitentiary in Anthony, Texas, where he has been incarcerated since July 2009, according to the Marine Corps Times, and is expected to be released in March.
According to UPI, "U.S. prosecutors said Sanders kept more than 600 images of child pornography on his computer. Prosecutors said he also kept a 21-minute video showing prepubescent girls having sex with an adult male." Sanders has consistently claimed his innocence of the allegation, despite having pleaded guilty to the one count in 2008, explaining that he was researching child exploitation for a book.
The reason for the revocation of Sanders’ Silver Star remains mired in mystery, however, and even the military news outlet reports that it is “not clear whether Sanders’ conviction played a role in him losing his Silver Star.”
Secretary Mabus signed a memorandum revoking Sanders’ award in August 2010 following a review and recommendation by the Navy Department Board of Medals and Decorations, but the Navy has since refused to release the memo, which was “addressed to the chief of naval personnel, who in turn would be responsible for the administrative actions to pull the award from official naval records,” the Marine Corps Times reported.
A statement by a spokesperson for Secretary Mabus only adds more mystery to the decision. The spokesperson, Capt. Pamela Kunze, said of the revocation, “Had the subsequently determined facts and evidence surrounding both the incident for which the award was made and the processing of the award itself been known to the secretary of the Navy in 1992, those facts would have prevented the award of the Silver Star.”
However, Kunze declined to explain why the review was ordered in the first place and what “subsequently determined facts” arose. If the child porn conviction had any bearing, Kunze has remained mum about that, as well.
Considering how rarely military commendations are revoked, the Navy’s reluctance to explain its rationale is more than a little odd. According to Doug Sterner, a Vietnam vet and curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor database, the action take by Mabus is practically unprecedented.
“I’ve never heard of it,” he said, adding, “I’m sure it’s happened, but this actually shows how rare it is.”
According to Marine Corps Times, “Sterner said he knows only of 17 revocation cases involving Navy personnel, and they predate World War I. Most of the 17 cases involve sailors who deserted or had other misconduct that caused the Navy to revoke the Medal of Honor, which at the time was given largely as a peacetime award and in most cases ‘had nothing to do with valor.’”
Interviewed by the Marine Corps Times this month, Sanders reiterated his claim that he is not a pedophile. He also said he remained proud of his 29 ½ years of active and reserve service, and did not fault Mabus for his action revoking the Silver Star. He had also been the recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
“[The awards] don’t belong to me,” he said. “They were bestowed to me. The only medal that I actually earned ... was the Purple Heart.”
Photo: Wade Sanders