Oklahoma Republican lawmaker faces questions over military service

Representative Mike Ritze. Official photo.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican Oklahoma legislator facing accusations from colleagues that he wore military service decorations that he didn't earn, including a Purple Heart, has been removed from the membership rolls of a national veterans group.

Disabled American Veterans notified Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow this week that he had not documented his eligibility for membership and was being removed from its rolls.

"I ask that you remove any reference to being a member, honorary or otherwise, from your bio or any other document which suggests that you are a member of DAV," the group's National Adjutant J. Marc Burgess wrote to Ritze in the May 7 letter.

Ritze, 69, had claimed he was awarded an honorary membership in the group, but Burgess said the group's constitution prohibits such memberships. The chapter Ritze said granted him membership hasn't been active for 20 years, said DAV Inspector General Edward Hartman.

Ritze did not immediately respond Thursday to telephone and email messages seeking comment. His campaign website indicates he joined the Oklahoma National Guard in 1977 and later transferred to the U.S. Army Medical Corps Reserve.

An osteopathic doctor from the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Ritze has faced criticism recently from two of his Republican colleagues, Reps. Kevin McDugle and Josh West, both combat veterans, who accused him of wearing military decorations he hasn't earned, including a Purple Heart.

McDugle, a former U.S. Marine, said he asked Ritze about a small Purple Heart medal he was wearing on his DAV hat during a House ceremony last year honoring veterans. McDugle said Ritze told him he wore the pin because he's a supporter of Purple Heart recipients.

"In my mind, anyone who served in the military is a hero," McDugle said. "There is no reason to embellish your service in the military."

West, who was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot during a firefight in Karbala, Iraq, in 2003, said he also saw Ritze wearing the Purple Heart pin on the House floor.

"I take issue with those who misrepresent their service," West said.

In 2016, Ritze was among those who voted to increase the penalties for anyone found impersonating a member of the U.S. armed forces by wearing unauthorized decorations or medals.

A member of the House's conservative Platform Caucus, Ritze faced criticism last year when he suggested tens of thousands of non-English speaking students in public schools be turned over to U.S. immigration officials as a cost-saving measure.

Ritze sponsored a bill in 2009 to allow a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, and he and his family helped pay for the granite structure, which was later ordered removed by the state Supreme Court.

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The Gayly. May 10, 2018. 4:52 p.m. CST.