ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Army veteran Terry Calandra felt he deserved higher military honors than the Purple Hearts he received for being wounded in combat in Vietnam. So in 1969, when a friend handed him a box that contained a Silver Star, the nation's third-highest military award, Calandra kept it — and passed it off as his own.
Nearly 40 years later, Calandra submitted bogus documentation to the office of then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter indicating he had earned that Silver Star, plus the Distinguished Service Cross and two additional Purple Hearts. Calandra asked for Specter's help in upgrading his Silver Star to the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. Specter, in turn, asked the Army to look into the matter.
Calandra, 62, a former Pennsylvania resident now living in New Jersey, pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he lied about the medals and was sentenced Tuesday in Philadelphia to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Calandra's attorney, Robert Woodruff, said his client became convinced that he had done enough to earn the decorations.
"He did serve, he served honorably and he put his life in harm's way numerous times," Woodruff said Thursday. He said Calandra now realizes that his deception "demeaned those who died over there and demeaned those who did earn the awards."
Calandra served in Vietnam from January through July of 1969. He wound up earning three Purple Hearts and a number of other lesser military commendations.
He concocted a story that he won the Silver Star by throwing himself on a grenade, and made up another story to go with the Distinguished Service Cross he claimed to have been awarded, according to federal prosecutors.
"Calandra told the agents that he fabricated this story because he liked how it felt to be a hero, that it boosted his ego, and was an addiction," U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said in a guilty-plea memorandum.
Calandra even persuaded the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to change its records to indicate he had received the Distinguished Service Cross — the Army's highest honor — and two Purple Hearts to which he was not entitled, said Douglas Sterner, curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, who brought Calandra's fraud to light.
Sterner said he receives a dozen "stolen valor" cases a week. Perhaps 30 percent, he said, involve veterans like Calandra, "who had everything to be proud of but it still wasn't enough."