ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Doug Sterner drives from his cluttered apartment here to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., carrying a portable photocopier and a belief in American heroes.
Inside the Navy archives, he flips through thousands of typed index cards detailing bravery in battle. Sterner pulls out a card and starts reading. He’s mesmerized by this story:
Charles Valentine August, a Navy pilot who shot down two enemy planes in World War II, was later shot down himself and captured in North Africa. After escaping, August returned to combat and was shot down again and taken prisoner by the Japanese.
August was awarded a Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action.” Sterner carefully photocopies the card.
Stories like August’s fuel Sterner’s single-minded quest to compile the records of every last soldier, sailor, airman and Marine awarded one of the nation’s top three medals for valor in combat from every American war. He’s been at it every day, 12 hours a day for 14 years, determined to build the comprehensive medals database the Pentagon has never provided.