A German auction house has sold an historic Medal of Honor — despite opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz and the National Medal of Honor Museum who urged the U.S. government to intervene and stop the sale.
Army Pvt. Thomas Kelly earned the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor, for his service in 1898 during the Spanish-American War while he was serving with Company H, 21st U.S. Infantry. The National Medal of Honor Museum says he was awarded the medal for rescuing injured soldiers as he came under enemy fire in Santiago, Cuba. Additionally, Theodore Roosevelt also earned a Medal of Honor for his valor in the same battle, the museum noted.
U.S. law bars the sale of military medals or decorations authorized by Congress, and those who violate the law could face a fine and up to six months in prison. Despite the urging from the National Medal of Honor Museum to remove the listing on Wednesday, Hermann Historica GmbH auction house sold the medal for more than $15,000 on Thursday.
National Medal of Honor Museum President and CEO Joe Daniels also wrote letters to U.S. government officials including President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Attorney General Bill Barr, calling on them to halt the sale of the medal.
“This Medal of Honor is a priceless American treasure that belongs here in our country,” Daniels said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re asking our elected leaders and officials in the administration to do what they can to prevent people from illegally profiting off of Private Kelly’s heroism and bring the medal home where it belongs.”
Additionally Cruz, a Republican from Texas, waded into the dispute and urged Pompeo to intercede on the matter.
"The sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of the Medal of Honor,” Cruz wrote in a letter Tuesday. “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.”
"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 the sale is suspended,” Cruz wrote.
But ultimately, the efforts did not stop the sale from going through. Bernhard Pacher, the managing director of Hermann Historica, noted the law doesn’t apply to him since he is not in the U.S.
“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 told Stars and Stripes.
“In general, there’s way less emotion here towards objects of historical value than there is in the United States,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Pacher has sold a Medal of Honor either. Stripes reports he’s previously sold four others, including one for more than $7,400. The auction listing says the item sold for €14,000 — more than $15,000.
A total of 3,525 Medals of Honor have been awarded to service members, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum. The museum’s database says 31 soldiers, 66 sailors, and 15 Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Spanish American War.