It certainly looked real. It had the right font, right seal. It was even signed by the secretary of the Navy.
But Doug Sterner, self-appointed guardian of the nation's military decorations, immediately suspected that there was something fishy about the Marine's citation for the Navy Cross, one of the military's most prestigious awards.
First of all, it said that the president “takes pride” in presenting the prize. “Pride,” Sterner knew, is typically used only when the recipient is dead. This Marine was very much alive, which meant the citation should have said the president “takes pleasure.”
Then Sterner noticed that the citation was supposedly signed in 1968 by Navy Secretary Paul H. Nitze. But Nitze was secretary only until 1967.
Sterner, who lives in Alexandria, knew that in his obsessive quest to compile a database of recipients of the military's top decorations, he had found yet another phony. This time, the man he outed was Richard Thibodeau, who for years had proudly spun tales of heroism and even had his awards hung in a veterans museum.