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US soldier’s Medal of Honor sells for more than $15,000 at Germany auction

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." (Airman 1st Class Veronica Salgado/U.S. Air Force)
July 06, 2020

A Medal of Honor was sold for $14,000 euros, or almost $15,500, at a German auction house in late May.

Ireland-born Pvt. Thomas Kelly was awarded the medal on June 22, 1899, after he “gallantly assisted in the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines and while under heavy fire from the enemy” during the Spanish-American War, his medal citation said.

The sale comes despite a campaign to stop the auction that included Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and the National Medal of Honor Museum. Cruz wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to use his influence to prevent the auction from taking place.

“The sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of the Medal of Honor,” Crus said in his letter. “The Congress and the United States have long sought to prevent such affronts, and indeed 18 U.S. Code § 704 authorizes fines and imprisonment when those sales occur within our jurisdiction. In this context, I urgently call on you to work with the U.S.’s foreign partners, including with officials of the Federal Republic of Germany, to ensure sale is suspended.”

While the law Cruz cited in his letter prevents medals from being auctioned in the U.S., the Munich-based Hermann-Historica is not held to the same legal standards. They went through with the sale after just one bid that was four times the starting bid of 3,000 euros.

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According to Stars and Stripes, Hermann-Historica managing director Bernhard Pacher said he had previously sold four Medals of Honor, adding that the anonymous buyer of the Pvt. Kelly medal was looking to “beef up his pension.”

“There’s nothing morally bad in selling a medal, even if it’s pointed out to me that it’s illegal in the U.S., because I’m not in the U.S.,” Pacher said. “In general, there’s way less emotion here towards objects of historical value than there is in the United States.”

According to Military.com, National Medal of Honor Museum spokesman Dave Knaus said the museum is considering future steps as they look into who bought the medal. The museum is also gathering historical data on other medals that are missing.

More than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen since it’s creation in 1861. As of 2019, there are 103 living Medal of Honor recipients. It is the only medal that is worn around the neck rather than being pinned on a uniform.