While my inbox contains dozens of emails from adult industry companies and publicists, I also subscribe to an equal (if not greater) number of military- and veterans-affairs newsletters. I read Stars & Stripes, The Military Times, and get updates from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Today Network, and Military.com, to name a few. And I read each and every one of those updates from top to bottom. I’m always on the lookout for stories, of course, but mostly, veterans affairs are a pet passion of mine, thanks to my Vietnam vet dad and my Iraq vet cousin. Still, the story ideas never hurt.
I was reading The Military Times one day when I came across a story about Doug Sterner, a Vietnam vet who was building a database to track medals of valor handed out within the military. No official list exists, and Sterner saw it as an important bit of historical record-keeping that needed to be done. His story inspired me, and I began learning more about the issue of stolen valor.
A few months after I read that first article, an email came through announcing that the Stolen Valor Act was on the verge of being passed, having been approved by the House of Representatives. It was something that my editor and I both thought warranted coverage, and I saw it as a great opportunity to interview Sterner, whose hard work utterly intrigued me. Not many people would put in the hours he does simply because they feel it’s the right thing to do. And I can’t imagine anyone giving up their retirement to work, for free, on a project that will likely get little national attention.
When I emailed Sterner to ask about scheduling an interview, he said he’d be happy to talk with me, but wanted to make sure I did all my research first. So he sent me several chapters of a book he’s working on about stolen valor and suggested I read it before our interview. I spent that weekend curled up on the couch with a printout of his book-in-progress, and I learned so much more than I’d ever imagined. Like the fact that Sterner’s wife, Pam, was almost entirely responsible for getting the Stolen Valor Act written in the first place. I was blown away by just how much the Sterner family had done for the cause, and it only made me want to talk to Doug all the more.
My interview with Sterner was as enlightening and inspiring as I’d imagined it would be, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, too. At one point, before cursing (I think he may have said “hell” or “shit”), Sterner asked if, since it was Penthouse he was speaking to, he could be a little loose with his language. I assured him he could say whatever he wanted to me, and he did. He may not have cursed like a sailor on leave, but he had a few choice words to share, and it made me happy to hear the passion come through as he spoke. If he was going to curse, it was going to be for a reason. I was honored that he was willing to speak so freely with me, and if I could have, I probably would have just printed the text of our interview and called it a day.
To read my article about the Stolen Valor Act, which appeared in the January 2013 issue of Penthouse, click here.