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Symbols of Sacrifice Should Not Be for Sale

Rep. Paul Cook is a Republican from California and a retired Marine Corps colonel. He serves on veterans affairs, armed services and foreign affairs committees in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This year, I introduced legislation to provide special protection for Purple Heart medals awarded to service members wounded or killed while serving in the Armed Forces. This legislation would end the buying and selling of Purple Hearts, a practice that transforms these symbols of our brave service members' sacrifices into collectible commodities. This legislation isn't just about good public policy. I'm compelled to act by the personal stories attached to some of these medals.

One letter began, "They broke into my home and stole it. That was my grandfather's medal, the one he got from MacArthur. I know they're just looking for anything they can sell, but that medal was priceless." Another family's story reads, "This medal was precious to my parents. On special occasions, they would let us touch it and hold it in our hand. As I grew older and missed my brother more and more I realized, this is the only tangible thing we have left." These stories are two among many. The Purple Heart has become a powerful symbol of sacrifice to our nation's veterans.

After the roar of battle ends and service members come home from war, some were met with parades and honors while others unfairly endured the silence of an indifferent country. Regardless of how their war ended, veterans of every conflict soon learned that America's attention span can be short and, without symbols and memorials, the sacrifice of past generations is sometimes forgotten. That's why symbols like the Purple Heart have such a special place in our country. They remind all of us to reflect on the sacrifices that have secured our freedom and recognize the veterans among us who stood in defense of our liberty.

When these symbols are cheapened, it hurts us all. While most military collectors are honorable, good people, there is also a distasteful and downright ghoulish desire by some collectors to acquire Purple Hearts awarded to veterans wounded or killed in famous battles. Unlike collecting military gear from past conflicts, like helmets or uniforms, trading Purple Hearts puts a monetary value on something priceless: blood spilled in defense of our nation. Our national symbol of sacrifice should be off limits to profiteers. Allowing disreputable collectors to hawk a veteran's Purple Heart on the auction block like a baseball card demeans all veterans, especially those wounded in combat.

I'm more committed than ever to see these medals reunited with the families and veterans they rightfully belong to. I'm not alone in this desire. My bill, H.R. 6234, has received the endorsement of 34 Veterans Service Organizations, from the Military Order of the Purple Heart to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Together, we will preserve the Purple Heart, give it the protections it deserves, and reunite these medals with their rightful recipients and descendants.

Symbols like the Purple Heart can bind us together and make us a stronger people. We are a better country when we remember our history and honor the veterans among us who've sacrificed so much so we can all breathe free. We can't be content to simply say "thank you for your service" once a year and go on our way. We must honor our veterans by protecting the symbols and traditions they hold dear. We can't allow the unscrupulous, selfish few seeking to profit from the sacrifice of our veterans to win the day. We must stand firm and defend their honors, just as they once stood and so bravely defended all of us. 

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