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Sen. Cruz fights to block sale of Medal of Honor

In 1898 U.S. Army Pvt. Thomas Kelly was part of the force that conquered the Spaniards at San Juan Hill in Cuba, the decisive battle of the Spanish-American War.

Kelly rushed to rescue several wounded comrades as the battle raged. His gallantry under fire earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award granted by the United States.

On Friday, Kelly’s medal is slated to be sold at an auction house in Munich, Germany, according to Military.com. But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is trying to stop that.

In a May 26 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Texas Republican wrote that he wants America’s chief diplomat to “use the voice and influence of the United States to prevent the sale.

“The sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of the Medal of Honor,” Cruz wrote. 

“The Congress and the United States have long sought to prevent such affronts,” Cruz added, citing a federal law designed to punish those who participate in such sales within the United States. Those charged can spend up to a year in jail and face a fine of $100,000.

“In this context, 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.”

Military.com reports that it’s unclear how the auctioneer, Hermann Historica GmbH, obtained Kelly’s medal. It’s also unclear how Cruz became involved.

The publication notes the back of the medal is engraved with “The Congress to Private Thomas Kelly – Co. H 21st U.S. Infty., for gallantry in action at Santiago, Cuba, July 1, 1898.”

The initial asking price is €3,000, or $3,297. 

Groups protective of the medal and what it stands for are urging Pompeo to heed Cruz’s request.

“This Medal of Honor is a priceless American treasure that belongs here in our country,” Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the Medal of Honor Museum, told Military.com in a statement. 

“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.”  

This is not the first time America’s most distinctive military award has been sold on the open market.

Stars & Stripes reported in 2003 about a sale on eBay of a Medal of Honor, whose recipient was not identified, that netted a London-based seller $2,200. Stars & Stripes noted that the New York-based manufacturer with the exclusive contract to produce them for the government was actually making and selling unauthorized medals on a black market. Company executives pleaded guilty in federal court in 1996 to unlawfully manufacturing and selling at least 300 Medals of Honor between 1991 and 1994.

Since the first one was awarded during the Civil War, Congress has bestowed the medal on 3,508 recipients, 69 of whom are still living, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

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