Seth Moulton underplays military service
The American political graveyard has more than a few monuments to politicians and public officials who embellished details of their military service, in some cases laying claim to medals for heroism or other military honors they never received.
And then, uniquely, there is Seth W. Moulton, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District, a former Marine who saw fierce combat for months and months in Iraq. But Moulton chose not to publicly disclose that he was twice decorated for heroism until pressed by the Globe.
In 2003 and 2004, during weeks-long battles with Iraqi insurgents, then-Lieutenant Moulton “fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire” while leading his platoon during pitched battles for control of Nasiriyah and Najaf south of Baghdad, according to citations for the medals that the Globe requested from the campaign.
The Globe learned of the awards — the Bronze Star medal for valor and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal for valor — after reviewing an official summary of Moulton’s five years of service, in which they were noted in military argot.
In an interview, Moulton said he considers it unseemly to discuss his own awards for valor. “There is a healthy disrespect among veterans who served on the front lines for people who walk around telling war stories,’’ he said. What’s more, Moulton said he is uncomfortable calling attention to his own awards out of respect to “many others who did heroic things and received no awards at all.’’
Moulton, who is facing off against Republican Richard Tisei in the Sixth Congressional District race, has been so close-mouthed about the medals that in his campaign, only his campaign manager – a former Marine – knew of the awards before the Globe asked for the citations on Wednesday. Even his parents did not know, and were told just this week, according to Scott Ferson, a campaign spokesman.
More typically, political candidates are more than happy to call attention to their valorous awards. In other cases, political careers have ended abruptly for candidates caught embellishing or fabricating aspects of their military service.
In Massachusetts, for instance, Republican state Representative Royall H. Switzler’s 1986 campaign for governor collapsed amid disclosures that he was not an Army Special Forces captain in Vietnam, as he had claimed, but an enlisted man who served in Korea. Four years earlier, Republican gubernatorial candidate John R. Lakian lost his party’s primary after the Globe discovered a number of exaggerations on his resume, including a false claim that he won a battlefield promotion in Vietnam.
More recently, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, was elected to the US Senate in 2010, even after The New York Times reported that he had falsely intimated during a speech that he had served as a Marine in Vietnam. In 1982, former US Representative Bruce F. Caputo abandoned his candidacy for the US Senate in New York after his claim to have served as an Army lieutenant during the Vietnam War proved to be false.
Citations aside, Moulton’s campaign was propelled from the start by his compelling personal story: the Harvard graduate who became a Marine officer after 9/11; who spent two years in Iraq commanding an infantry platoon even though he, and many of his men, opposed that war; and who later earned graduate degrees in business and government from Harvard.
His unusual resume played no small role in his surprising primary victory last month over longtime US Representative John F. Tierney. But that resume omitted valorous actions that might have added to his margin of victory.
Moulton won the Bronze Star medal for valor, the nation’s fourth-highest award for heroism under fire, for his actions over two consecutive days during an August 2004 battle for control of the strategic city of Najaf, one of Islam’s holiest cities. According to the citation and accompanying documentation, his platoon was attacked and pinned down by intense mortar, rocket, sniper, and machine-gun fire. With four of his Marines wounded, Moulton “fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire,’’ moving among his men while ignoring incoming mortar rounds and sniper fire, and directing supporting fire that repelled the attack. The platoon again came under heavy fire the following day when Marines expelled soldiers from the Mahdi Army from another section of Najaf.
Moulton received the other medal for valor during the battle for Nasiriyah in March, 2003, the first major battle after the US invasion. Moulton’s platoon was credited with clearing a hostile stronghold. Later, Moulton rushed to the aid of a Marine who had been wounded by friendly artillery fire even though there was a chance that additional rounds might land at the same spot.
In the interview, Moulton asked that the Globe not describe him as a hero. “Look,’’ he said, “we served our country, and we served the guys next to us. And it’s not something to brag about.’
The greatest honor, he said, his voice choked with emotion, had nothing to do with the medals. “The greatest honor of my life was to lead these men in my platoon, even though it was a war that I and they disagreed with.”
Clarification: A story in Saturday’s Metro section on Seth Moulton’s military honors should have stated that many, not all, of the men who served under him in his platoon opposed the war in Iraq.