Stolen Valor Act may snare militaria dealers
*Reprinted from AntiqueWeek – By Eric C. Rodenberg, article appeared in the March 5 issue of AntiqueWeek, also available online at www.antiqueweek.com
A recent federal law, designed to preserve the integrity of hard-earned war medals and decorations, has created chaos within the collecting field of militaria.
On Dec. 21, with the passage of the Stolen Valor Act, it became illegal to sell, purchase or even advertise any military decoration or medal. It is a federal offense, which carries a punishment of prison time or a fine.
The Stolen Valor Act was first introduced by Rep. John Salazar (D-Colorado) as a response to the large numbers of fake military heroes in the United States.
This covers the waterfront, according to collectors, including virtually any decoration found on a uniform. Previously, only the Congressional Medal of Honor was afforded such protection.
The act found its namesake in the book, Stolen Valor by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley in which the authors exposed a huge number of bogus military heroes who passed off faked military heroics after purchasing – and wearing – unearned military decorations.
In the book’s publisher’s website, www.stolenvalor.com., a synopsis claims: “The authors show killers who have fooled the most astute prosecutors and gotten away with murder, phony heroes who have become the object of award-winning documentaries on national network television, and liars and fabricators who have flooded major publishing houses with false tales of heroism which have become best-selling biographies.”
Aside from the original recipient of the medal, the new law is openly restrictive on the treatment of United States medals and decorations. Specifically, the law declares a criminal to be anyone who “knowingly wears, purchases, attempts to purchase, solicits for purchase, mails, ships, imports, exports, produces blank certificates of receipt, manufactures or sells … any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States.”
There is little argument from collectors, historians and dealers about the need for regulations prohibiting the wearing and display of such medals by those posing for unearned glory. However, the hue and cry among collectors of militaria is that the law is too encompassing.
“This is one of the most convoluted pieces of legislation ever passed,” said military collector Darrell English. “This is a situation where a band-aid would have sufficed … where language such as ’fraudulent use’ could have been inserted … but here they performed surgery. It was just a thoughtless, knee jerk reaction among lawmakers.”
Some of the top military collectors and dealers in the country are viewing the new law at face value and not taking any chances.
“We were planning a big sale in the Louisville (Ky.) area next week, in conjunction with a big military convention they’re having there, but we canceled it,” said Jeffrey B. Floyd, who is part owner of one of the country’s top militaria auction houses, FPJ Inc. “There’s just too many questions and we decided we didn’t want to be a test case. We’re just not comfortable with this sword hanging over our heads.”
The Chicago auction house, which sells at auction more medals and decorations than any other company in the world, conducts four sales a year, generally averaging more than $1 million in annual sales.
Although Floyd has been in contact with both legislative and enforcement representatives, he said it is too early to act until the murky language of the bill is cleared up. He hopes to have a sale in May.
“There’s nobody supporting the imposters,” he says. “But the way it is written it takes in everything that is on the uniform. In the larger picture, history is more important than going after imposters. Sure we’d like to see the medals stay in the family, but quite frankly more often than not the families are more interested in a $20 bill. As far as museums, you won’t find much interest there for Uncle Harry’s Purple Heart. It’s the collectors who care more about the recipients, and the medals, than anyone else.”
Collectors from The Orders and Medals Society of America, which claims 1,500 members, agree that the law is too vague, too ill-conceived.
In the meantime, many collectors and dealers maintain they will keep a low profile. At least until the letter of the law becomes more clear.
In a statement on the group’s website, former OMSA President Nick McDowell said the government needs a policy to “vigorously prosecute impostors, protect personal property that has been lawfully obtained, and that will clarify the roles and responsibilities of who can buy and sell what items.”
In the rush to get the law passed, many of those fine points were ignored, according to Floyd and other dealers and collectors.
“In it’s origin this was a bill to wrap yourself up in the flag and get your picture taken with a bunch of veterans,” Floyd said. “There’s a lot they didn’t understand …the unintended consequences of this thing is wide ranging.”
Contact: (703) 461-9582
Eric C. Rodenberg