PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- A decorated Vietnam veteran admitted Wednesday that he illegally obtained his highest honor by buying a Distinguished Service Cross on the Internet
Bruce Cotta, 56, agreed to perform 100 hours of community service and contribute $5,000 to the Army Emergency Relief Fund to avoid prosecution, U.S. Attorney Margaret Curran said.
In a statement, Cotta said: "While I admit that my actions were inexcusable, I hope that they will not cast a shadow on the heroic actions of other Vietnam veterans whose young lives were forever changed by this gruesome and controversial war."
As for why Cotta did it, his lawyer, Francis Flanagan, said, "He doesn't have an answer to that, even for himself."
Cotta told the FBI he bought the medal after the Army twice rejected his application for a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. He said he then forged papers that would go along with a Distinguished Service Cross and sent them to Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.
Kennedy presented the bogus Distinguished Service Cross -- the Army's second-highest honor -- to Cotta in a ceremony in 2000.
The inquiry began when a researcher compiling information for a Web site was unable to find a record of Cotta receiving a Distinguished Service Cross. The Army said it had no record, either, and referred the case to the FBI.
Cotta could have gotten six months in jail.
In addition to a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and the Soldier's Medal, Cotta holds a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor for his actions when his unit came under attack in 1968. His platoon leader said Cotta, a medic, threw back an enemy grenade and ignored wounds of his own to treat other soldiers.
Kennedy expressed disappointment with Cotta. "His actions are out of character for a veteran with such a remarkable service record," the congressman said.
Kennedy will meet with the leadership of the congressional committee responsible for naming the Middletown post office after Cotta to discuss the situation, a spokesman said.
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