US Medal of Honor sells for more than $15,000 at German auction house
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 28, 2020
AUSTIN, Texas — A German auction house sold a U.S. Medal of Honor on Thursday at triple the expected price after Sen. Ted Cruz called for the sale to be stopped.
Hermann Historica, an auction house in Munich, Germany, expected to take in about $5,000 for the medal, which was awarded to Army Pvt. Thomas Kelly for his actions during the Spanish-American War. Instead, the medal sold for nearly $15,500, said Bernhard Pacher, the managing director of Hermann Historica, which specializes in military-related items.
“People appreciate these things,” Pacher said, adding he doesn’t understand why Cruz finds selling the medals disrespectful. Most buyers spend the money on the items because they hold them in high regard, he said.
On Tuesday, Cruz, R-Texas, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for him to intervene in the sale. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award and selling military medals awarded by Congress is illegal in the United States. Federal law authorizes fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.
A day later, Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum, joined Cruz in his efforts by writing to a number of U.S. federal government officials to stop the sale.
However, selling it is not illegal in Germany and Kelly’s medal, which the soldier received in 1899, was listed in Thursday’s auction catalogue among more than 900 military orders and decorations from around the globe.
Pacher said Cruz’s comments drew attention to the auction and likely harmed his own cause.
“I guarantee you, we are going to be flooded now with offers to auction off a Medal of Honor,” he said. “You’ll achieve the opposite of what you wanted with that.”
The two European bidders on the Medal of Honor left the auction early as many U.S. bidders stepped in and increased the price, said Pacher, who feared the goal was to drive up the price with no intention of paying. But the person who won the auction was serious, he said, though he would not identify the buyer.
It remains unclear how Kelly’s medal ended up in the hands of collectors, though Pacher said he had received plenty of emails during the last 24 hours about the Medal of Honor, including from someone who claimed to be a relative of the soldier.
Kelly, an Irish immigrant to New York City, participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill, as did President Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. The private earned the Medal of Honor for rescuing wounded from the front lines of battle while under heavy enemy fire, according to his award citation listed with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Kelly first joined the Army in April 1894 and served continuously until his death, including during World War I, said Laura Jowdy, an archivist and historical collections manager with the society.
He died in New York on Dec. 17, 1920 at age 43 and is buried in the Plattsburg Barracks Post Cemetery in Plattsburg, N.Y., she said.