- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A veterans group is opposing an Oklahoma congressman’s proposal to posthumously award Purple Heart medals to six service members who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, saying the honors shouldn’t be given because it was an act of domestic, not international, terrorism.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart said Thursday the criteria for receiving the honor has been “constant and clear,” and only those who are killed or wounded in combat receive the honor.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, a 21-year Army veteran, introduced the measure in May in a defense authorization bill and says all service members swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against enemies “foreign and domestic.” Congress could take action by the end of the month.

John Bircher, a national spokesman for the congressionally chartered veterans service organization of 45,000 Purple Heart recipients, said Thursday that even though criteria has since expanded to include victims of international or internationally-inspired terrorism - such as those in the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood in Texas - the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had nothing to do with battlefield combat or international terrorism because it was carried out by Americans who held a grudge against their government.

The six service members were among the 168 who were killed in the bombing. Russell said he introduced the measure without contacting the families of the victims. Attempts to reach relatives of the victims were unsuccessful Thursday, and a spokesman for Russell said he didn’t have contact information immediately available.

“We are sympathetic to their families; it was a terrible thing that happened, but it didn’t happen in combat,” Bircher said. “The Purple Heart is unique in that it is an entitlement; it is not a decoration. We’re on a battlefield giving our lives to protect the freedoms Americans enjoy, and it’s on a battlefield, not sitting in an office back in the States.”

Russell told The Associated Press on Thursday that Timothy McVeigh was a “clearly defined enemy of the state.” McVeigh was convicted on federal murder and conspiracy charges in 1997 and executed in 2001.

“(The building) had six service members, six recruiters, at their duty posts,” Russell said. “I don’t know how clearer it can get. This was not workplace violence.”

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