Since the Supreme Court reversed a seven-year-old ban on buying and selling Purple Hearts, merchants have enjoyed a boom in business among collectors of military memorabilia. But one Afghanistan War veteran is determined to shoot down the rising transactions.
The overturning of the Stolen Valor Act in June allowed for retailers to sell one of the military’s most distinguished awards -- the Purple Heart, a medal given to servicemen and servicewomen who are killed or wounded in action, NBC reports. But while these merchants aren’t breaking any laws, Zachariah Fike -- a Vermont Army National Guard captain –- has made it his mission to at least try and return the medals to their rightful owners before they’re purchased.
“I know I’m outnumbered on this -- there's hundreds of collectors selling them and buying them compared to one guy who’s on this crusade,” Fike told NBC News. “But if I can just reach one or two of these dealers and convince them to at least try to reunite the medals with the families of the recipients, well, then I’ve done some justice.”
While Fike sees the buying and selling of Purple Hearts as an American tragedy, some sellers, like Scott Kraska, operator of BayStateMilitaria, view such transactions as a “celebration of America’s good deeds” and contend that the medals have been willingly dropped off at vintage stores or posted on Internet shopping sites.
But when a Purple Heart ends up with a price tag hanging off of it, oftentimes it’s because the owner had no choice but to relinquish the hard-earned keepsake.
Such was the case when an Afghanistan War veteran dropped off one of his two Purple Heart medals at a pawn shop in Holland, Mich., last November, according to the Holland Sentinel.
“He was falling on hard times,” Bryan VandenBosch, A-Z Outlet owner, told the news outlet. “He said the same thing everybody else who comes in here says. He was short on funds.”
In 19 years of business, it was the first time VandenBosch had seen a Purple Heart come through his doors. And he wasn’t willing to make his first sale. The dutiful owner said he would hold onto the medal, just in case the vet returned to get it out of hock.
Gary Chasin, a pawn shop buyer in Columbus, Ohio, had the same reaction when a seller, who claimed to have found a Purple Heart on the street, wanted to make a profit, nbc4i.com reports. While Chasin, was willing to buy it, he only did so, so that he could at least try to track down the owner.
"It doesn't belong in this shop and I'd like to return it," Chasin told the news outlet.
While VandenBosch and Chasin aren’t inclined to make money off of a military member’s sacrifice for his or her country, sites –- like Kraska’s -- are making a pretty penny. On BayStateMilitaria.com, Purple Heart medals fetch somewhere between $90 and $395, according to NBC.
For Fike, though, a collector who scours the Internet and antique stores for Purple Hearts, reuniting owners with their lost medals is a priceless opportunity.
After the Afghanistan War vet received a Purple Heart from his mother, one that she had found at an antique shop, he realized his mission, which eventually evolved into his nonprofit, Purple Hearts Reunited, NPR reports.
After some extensive researching, Fike learned that the medal belonged to Corrado A.G. Piccoli, an Italian translator for the Army during WWII who was killed in action. He also eventually tracked down his sister Adeline Rockko.
Though her family didn’t know the medal was missing, Rocko never lost track of how much it meant to her.
“But as I grew older," she told the news outlet, "and missed my brother more and more, I realized, Well, this is the only tangible thing that we have left."