US Coins

Should Purple Heart medals be bought and sold?

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives seeks to stop the sale of the Purple Heart medal.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would stop the sale of collectible Purple Heart medals awarded to members of the Armed Forces. On Sept. 28, Rep. Paul Cook, R-CA, introduced H.R. 6234, titled the “Private Corrado Piccoli Purple Heart Preservation Act of 2016.” 

The Purple Heart is a combat decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy. The medals are presented posthumously to the recipient’s next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. 

The legislation explains, “The Purple Heart medal holds a place of honor as the national symbol of this sacrifice and deserves special protections.” 

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The bill would provide that anyone who knowingly purchases, attempt to purchase or sell any Purple Heart medal be punished by a fine or not more than six months imprisonment. 

Rep. Cook stated in a Sept. 29 press release, “Military collectors often acquire these Purple Hearts, sometimes through underhanded means, and resell them as collectable items. These medals sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on the collector market.” 

The release adds, “As Veterans or their survivors pass away, dozens of these Purple Hearts become lost every year and find their way into pawn shops, junk stores, and estate sales.”

The legislation is named for Pvt. Corrado Piccoli, a World War II soldier killed in action in 1944. A Purple Heart medal accompanied the telegram informing Pvt. Piccoli’s family of his death and this medal was later lost. 

Army Capt. Zachariah Fike discovered the medal in 2011 and returned it to Pvt. Piccoli’s surviving siblings. Capt. Fike would subsequently found Purple Hearts Reunited, an organization that has returned more than 300 Purple Hearts to the recipient’s families.

Rep. Cook stated, “Service organizations, like Purple Hearts Reunited, work tirelessly to rescue these medals and return them to families. The profiteering actions of military collectors make this task even more difficult as medals find their way onto the market and away from their rightful places of honor.” 

The representative, who was wounded twice in combat, concluded, “These military collectors cheapen the Purple Heart by buying and selling this symbol of sacrifice like a pack of baseball cards. I’m committed to defending our Veterans and that means preserving their symbols of honor, like the Purple Heart. These medals belong with families or in museums, not on some collector’s auction block.”

From a collector's point of view

John Adams-Graf, editor of Military Trader magazine, wrote on Oct. 26 that he considered the bill misguided, explaining, “I do not argue that a veteran is entitled to keep his or her medals. But, as you are aware, a veteran’s medals are given to him or her by our government. If that veteran chooses to dispose of or sell those medals, that is the veteran’s right to do so. I don’t believe Rep. Cook considered that his bill, if made into law, would infringe upon these rights of veterans or their heirs.” 

Adams-Graf added, “Further­more, Rep. Cook’s bill, as it is now written, fails to acknowledge the thousands of private collectors and researchers who often become the custodians of these medals, whether through purchase or gift. In so doing, these people perpetuate the memory and deeds for which the medals were originally awarded. Without these committed researchers, historians, and hobbyists, these actions would be forgotten to the ages. Rep. Cook’s bill would effectively criminalize these efforts to preserve the record of our military history.”

The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary on Sept. 28, which referred it to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations on Oct. 18. 

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal and outlawed sales of the Purple Heart. The law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 as an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment. 

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