Military Benefits

Selling Purple Hearts would be illegal if this bill becomes law

A California congressman wants to make it illegal to sell Purple Hearts as military collectibles, calling the practice disrespectful to the sacrifices of wounded troops.

Republican Rep. Paul Cook introduced legislation last week which would make selling the medal punishable by fines and up to six months in prison. Online retailers price the military honors at several hundred dollars each, more if they can document who the original recipient was.

"These military collectors cheapen the Purple Heart by buying and selling this symbol of sacrifice like a pack of baseball cards," said Cook, who served 26 years in the Marine Corps before joining Congress, rising to the rank of colonel and receiving two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained during the Vietnam War.

"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."

Congress in recent years has made an effort to crack down on frauds by passing legislation making it illegal to claim unearned military honors, with those laws meeting mixed success in the courts.

But Cook's bill would place the Purple Heart into a new protected category, keeping it away from not just con artists but also memorabilia collectors. Officials from the Military Order of the Purple Heart applauded the idea.

"Purple Hearts that are lost or stolen belong with veterans and their survivors, period -- not floating around on the collectors' market," said Hershel Gober, national commander of the group.

The Purple Heart is America’s oldest military decoration still in use. Originally established by George Washington as the Badge of Merit during the Revolutionary War, the honor is awarded to troops wounded or killed in action on the battlefield, or by an act of international terrorism.

Cook's legislation does not include exceptions for veterans who wish to sell their own medals, or for family members who want to sell the Purple Heart of a deceased relative.

But staff said Cook’s bill is aimed at collectors and resellers, not veterans. The measure is named for Pvt. Corrado Piccoli, a World War II infantryman killed in action in 1944 whose Purple Heart was found for sale at an antique store in 2009.

That discovery prompted the founding of Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit which has so far recovered about 300 Purple Hearts and returned them to families of the veterans who earned them.

Cook’s measure faces a difficult path to becoming law, given the short legislative schedule for the rest of this year. Lawmakers aren’t expected back on Capitol Hill until after the November elections, and will face a host of appropriations and emergency funding issues in the few weeks before the end of 2016.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

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