Medal of honour

MEDAL OF MERIT: retired NZ Army lieutenant colonel Christopher Mullane was officially presented with the US legion of merit (the medal with the pink ribbon) 33 years after it was recommended.
Photo: Maryke Penman
MEDAL OF MERIT: retired NZ Army lieutenant colonel Christopher Mullane was officially presented with the US legion of merit (the medal with the pink ribbon) 33 years after it was recommended.

A veteran can finally wear a medal with pride after being accused of buying it from a second-hand shop.

Retired NZ Army Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Mullane received the US Legion of Merit in 1979 after serving on an exchange as chief of the leadership branch in Fort Benning, Georgia in the United States.

A paperwork mix-up meant the honour was never made official, causing Mr Mullane to come under much criticism by those who doubted he had been awarded it legitimately.

"It is normally awarded to quite senior officers and so it was unusual for me to get it because I was only a major at the time," Mr Mullane says.

An anonymous letter to the Defense Pentagon in Washington requested confirmation of the medal being awarded to Mr Mullane.

Because of the error there was no official record of it and so ensued a two-year hunt by military officials to get to the bottom of the saga.

Mr Mullane was accused of buying the medal from a secondhand shop and wearing it fraudulently.

Several RSA members called for him to step down from his position at the time as Returned Services Association of New Zealand vice-president.

"I admire that they were that persistent to get to the bottom of it for my sake," he says.

"Two short words, `thank you', seem very inadequate to me," Mr Mullane says.

The medal, the sixth highest award in US military decorations, was presented to Mr Mullane on June 18 at the Devonport RSA by visiting US Army Pacific deputy commander Major General Roger Matthews.

"I am proud to be wearing it, it is a great honour," Mr Mullane says.

"The people in the US Army will always hold a special place in my heart. It is I that should be showing my thanks to the US not the other way around," he says.

General Matthews acknowledged Mr Mullane's contribution to the US military in the form of a leadership manual he says has changed the army.

"His expertise in producing a manual was so that it lives today, it changed our army," General Matthews says.

"I know of no other circumstances where the Legion of Merit has been awarded like this.

"It is a very significant award and I look forward to seeing it pinned on his lapel," he says.

North Shore Times