Published: February 27, 2007
Massachusetts auctioneer Darrell English has been collecting militaria and World War II artifacts since he was a child. His personal collection comprises thousands of items today. With the recent federal adoption of the Stolen Valor Act, however, he worries that he might now be considered a criminal.
The Orders and Medals Society of America believes the law, signed by President Bush in December, will negatively affect the country’s veterans. Others say it is much ado about nothing and that the intent of the law is to prevent the defrauding of legitimate veterans and the public by those who would masquerade as a decorated veteran to benefit by stealing the cache of good will and trust afforded veterans.
Preexisting federal law, Title 18, already forbids the sales of all medals. “Whoever knowingly wears, purchases… mails, ships, imports, exports …or sells…any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States…except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months or both.”
The Stolen Valor Act amended Title 18 to increase the penalty for violations that involve valor medals such as the Purple Heart as well as the Medal of Honor (often called the Congressional Medal of Honor), which have always been protected and illegal to sell.
Colorado Congressman John T. Salazar, in introducing the Stolen Valor Act bill, said the legislation would “penalize distributors of phony medals and those who fraudulently claim to be decorated veterans …restoring honor to those who have truly earned it.”
Dean Veremakis, president of the Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA), a nonprofit group set up to study, collect and exhibit medals and decorations, said the group is concerned that the new prohibition impacts veterans’ ability to replace lost awards or decorations as well as shipping them back home to loved ones.
Colorado resident Doug Sterner, who runs the Home of Heroes website and helped draft the Stolen Valor legislation, said under the law, veterans who received said medals for service to their country can receive replacement medals. Unclear is what happens to the medals after the designee’s death.
Under the wording of the law, family members would be prohibited from selling such items.
Sterner said he encourages family members to create a display of the medals in the house or if the descendents no longer wanted the medals, they should be donated to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (for MOH awards) or an appropriate venue of preservation such as city hall or a military museum.
English, who hopes to open his own museum, has parts of his collection in museums and regularly does community displays to honor veterans and takes his collection into schools to do programs for students.
“This law is absolutely unthought through. Instead of using the Band-Aid approach [to cure the part of fraudulent wear] they decided to use the amputation approach,” he said.
Word of the laws prohibiting sales of medals is apparently not getting out, as a recent search on eBay for World War II medals revealed 12 current auction listings and nearly 100 for US military medals.
A legal opinion from the Congressional Research Service last fall on the impact of the Stolen Valor Act on collectors of military service medals states that the new act does not impact the original exception in Title 18. “Therefore, it appears accurate to conclude that if the action of the collector was authorized by regulation, the enactment of the Bill would not affect that authorization.”
Sterner said he believes legitimate dealers and collectors are protected under the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 32, which allows the sale of certain decorations, medals, badges and insignia including identification badges, lapel buttons, rosettes and service ribbons.
Forbidden for sale under Title 32 are the Medal of Honor along with its service ribbon and rosette, service flags and the Army seal.
While supporting the purpose of the law to prevent “phony war heroes,” the OMSA feels the law should be modified. “We believe that placing the major emphasis on conduct rather than on medals would more effectively meet the laudable intent of the legislation.”
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