Brooks told Roll Call Wednesday the badge, which is a replica and not U.S.-issued, was given to him by a constituent, decorated Vietnam War veteran Col. John Reitzell, for aiding two wounded victims of the shooting at the Republican baseball practice in Alexandria in June where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others were shot.
Brooks, who is running in the special election to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said Reitzell “insisted” that he pin the badge to Brooks’ lapel at a Senate candidate forum in Alabama in June.“I have such high respect for him, I was not about to say no,” Brooks said. “That would have been rude.”
Reitzell confirmed Brooks’ account to AL.com, saying he pinned the badge on Brooks’s right lapel instead of the customary left lapel to indicate it was not authentic.
“It’s a symbol. It’s not the real deal,” Reitzell told AL.com. “And I’m pinning it on the wrong side so nobody will get caught up in it. Well, I was wrong. Somebody wants to politicize it.”
Brooks’s challenger, Clayton Hinchman, who reached the rank of Army captain and lost his right leg in Iraq in 2008, told Roll Call 10 to 12 veterans reached out to his campaign to express their frustration with Brooks for, in their view, using the military as a political lever by accepting and wearing the pin.
“I have a lot of friends who died earning their [Combat Infantryman Badge],” Hinchman said, “and I don’t think Mo understands the emotional attachment it has for people like me who actually served in combat.”
Hinchman said the veterans who reached out to him told him they were “tired of Mo trying to get a political promotion on the back of the military.”
Hinchman said the veterans wanted Brooks charged with a stolen valor crime, but he dismissed those comments, saying there wasn’t grounds for that.
But he disagreed with Reitzell’s decision to give Brooks the pin and with Brooks’ decision to accept it.
“The word I used for people who came to us, I said ‘It’s tacky.’ There’s not really a better word,” Hinchman said. “Many people have said, ‘Man so many people are trying to use the military for political stuff — but this dude didn’t even serve.”
Brooks said Reitzell was not the only combat veteran to recognize Brooks from the ballfield shooting — Alabama state Sen. Bill Holtzklaw, who served in the Marines in Operation Desert Storm, gave Brooks a Marine combat ribbon.
“Mr. Hinchman can be double mad at two of our veterans’ kindness and generosity,” Brooks said.“It was an honor that a war hero on the one hand and a retired Marine on the other thought well enough of my behavior under fire that they were willing to give me gifts that meant a lot to them.”
Hinchman said he spoke with Reitzell on the phone Tuesday morning to discuss the issue, but couldn’t agree on much.
“I thanked him for his service because he was a tremendous guy, but I said ‘Sir, you don’t have a right to give away medals, or replicas, for people’s political gains,’” Hinchman said he told Reitzell.