Courts & Crime

Fake medal case tied to school essay about 'hero next door'

KANSAS CITY — Abe Kyle barely heard what the FBI agent was telling him on the phone last week, other than, "We need to talk with you about your son. . . . We'll be over shortly."

His hands were shaking as he called Kearney High School. He needed to speak to his son — now!

At Adam Kyle’s “Hello?” the father unloaded: “Why is the FBI investigating you?”

Adam, 18, had no idea what his dad was talking about. He was confused. Scared. The FBI? He told a couple of friends, and soon most of the school knew.

The FBI agent arrived at Abe Kyle’s home an hour later. He showed the father of seven a photo of his second- oldest, then 13, standing beside a man. Adam was holding a Silver Star, and the man had a Purple Heart.

The FBI agent wanted to verify that it was Adam in the picture. Then he handed Abe Kyle a two-page report that Adam had written about the man five years ago: “The Hero Next Door.”

Pretty good writing for a 13-year-old, the agent said with a grin.

Abe Kyle, a 43-year-old Army veteran, read for the first time his son’s words about a man named Timothy J. Watkins.

How Watkins had received the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest medal, and a Purple Heart for his service in the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

How he was an Army Ranger who fell off a cliff after getting hit by enemy fire.

Unfortunately, the agent said, we believe Watkins’ story isn’t true.

Watkins, 47, who lives in Kansas City, North, is charged under a 2006 federal law called the Stolen Valor Act. The law makes it a crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000, to falsely claim you have received a medal from the U.S. military.

It’s a crime even if there’s no effort to profit from the stolen glory.

Watkins could not be reached for comment, but his defense attorney, John Patrick O’Connor, said there were “mitigating circumstances for a judge to consider.”

Watkins pleaded not guilty Thursday and has a March court date, O’Connor said.

Prosecutors allege that Watkins bought the two medals at a pawnshop. He was in the Army, court records indicate, but he served only one month before receiving a medical discharge in August 1983 — months before the U.S. invaded Grenada.

“Man, I should have titled it ‘The Liar Next Door,’ ” Adam said. “This is all really weird.”

Kyle and his father know all about the Purple Heart — and the Bronze Star. Abe Kyle received both medals while serving in Afghanistan with a field artillery unit from the Kansas National Guard. He also did a tour in Iraq. And he has the paperwork to prove it.

In 2006, he was in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, riding in a Humvee when it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. Shrapnel exploded through the vehicle and nearly took off one of his legs.

The father of seven shifts his cane to one side and lifts his right pants leg to show the mottled scars.

“I spent months at Walter Reed (Medical Center in Washington),” he said. “Adam came to visit me a few times.”

He will have more surgery in a few weeks and still might need to have the leg amputated.

While he was serving in Iraq in 2004-2005, his son joined the Big Brothers program. When Adam needed to write an extra-credit report about a hero next door, his Big Brother mentor introduced him to Watkins.

Neither the FBI nor federal prosecutors will talk about what led them to investigate Watkins or how they came across Adam Kyle’s report. But with more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans coming home, there’s been a push by veterans groups to expose fakers.

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