Three U.S. soldiers in a unit that accidentally killed an Army sergeant with “friendly fire” during the Persian Gulf War nonetheless received Bronze Stars for their actions, according to a report Saturday.
The soldiers were awarded the medals based on “misleading statements and misrepresentations” by three of their commanding officers, according to a confidential General Accounting Office report on the Army’s inquiry into the incident, obtained by U.S. News & World Report.
The GAO informed the Army of its findings in May 1994. And last August, the Army inspector general urged the Army to revoke the awards. The Army says it has begun that process, the magazine said.
Sgt. Douglas “Lance” Fielder, 22, of Nashville, Tenn., was killed and another soldier was wounded Feb. 27, 1991, when troops of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment strayed outside their assigned battle area and, mistaking Fielder and four others for Iraqi troops, fired on their disabled ammunition carrier.
“The (GAO) report says the officers cited their men for heroic efforts ‘involving conflict with an armed enemy’ when, in fact, there was no enemy,” the magazine reported in its April 24 edition.
Fielder’s mother, Deborah Shelton Harris, said she still is not satisfied the Army has told the truth about her son’s death. He also received the Bronze Star, awarded after his death.
“It tarnishes Lance’s Bronze Star,” his mother said. “It is just like spitting on the grave. I am stunned.”
The GAO reviewed the Army’s investigation at the request of Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., to determine whether the Army’s probe was thorough. The GAO stopped short of accusing the Army of a coverup, but was highly critical of four Army investigations that had recommended exonerating the officers.
Col. Douglas Starr, Lt. Col. John Daly Jr. and Capt. Bo Friesen, ultimately were reprimanded by the Army for negligence for allowing their troops to cross battle boundary lines.
But the reprimands of Starr and Daly, which could damage the promotion chances of career officers, were not placed in their permanent records, on the orders of an Army general, the GAO said. Friesen’s reprimand was withdrawn.
Starr has since retired from the Army. Daly, the son-in-law of Gen. Creighton Abrams, a hero at the Battle of the Bulge and a former Army chief of staff, currently is assigned to the Pentagon. He declined to comment to the magazine.
Friesen, who has left the Army, told the magazine: “Friendly fire happens in a war. But this one could have been very easily prevented.”
Three soldiers under the command of Starr, Daly and Friesen received the Bronze Stars that are now in dispute.
According to the GAO, the soldiers were honored for “bravery and valor,” “for clearing the sector of enemy” and “exceptionally meritorious heroism in the face of hostile fire.”
The citations were based on false statements by Daly, Starr and others in the unit, the GAO said. In the case of two awards, the incident was placed at an Iraqi airfield 17 miles northeast of where Fielder was killed, which “seriously masked the actual events of the fratricide,” the GAO said.
Earlier inquiries which cleared the officers were “incomplete, inaccurate and not supported by available evidence,” the GAO found.
“Skewed objectivity … resulted in findings that favored those in command whose actions contributed to the fratricide’s occurrence,” the GAO said.