The Purple Heart is more than just a medal -- especially to the recipients who have sacrificed while fighting for their country.
"It gives me a distinguished feeling," said Sam Houston, who was awarded a Purple Heart in 1970 after his service in the Vietnam War. "No matter where I go, if I'm wearing a Purple Heart hat, people always stop me. There's that saying, 'all gave some and some gave all.' "
This year, a piece of legislation is expected to come up in Congress that could help protect the Purple Heart and preserve that distinguished feeling.
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., plans to introduce the Private Corrado Piccoli Purple Heart Preservation Act this session. The bill would penalize the sale of any Purple Heart awarded to a member of the Armed Forces by imprisonment up to six months or a fine, which would be determined by the Department of Justice based off the federal fine schedule.
"The purpose of the bill is to see the Purple Heart protected and to ensure medals find their way back to families or homes of honor," Cook, himself a veteran, said in an emailed statement to the News Herald in Panama City. "It's wrong to turn profits on the sacrifices of our service members. These medals are powerful symbols of selflessness in defense of our nation. They deserve to be cherished by families instead of being traded like a pack of baseball cards and auctioned to the highest bidder."
Piccoli's medal was purchased in an antique mall for $100. The woman who purchased the medal gave it to her son, Capt. Zachariah Fike, who served in the Vermont Army National Guard. Fike then founded Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit that returns lost or stolen military medals of valor to veterans or their family.
Cook introduced the bill last year, but it was at the end of the congressional session, and no action was taken. He is optimistic it will pass this time and expects it to get referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations as it was last session.
In 2013, President Barack Obama signed the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a federal crime to fraudulently claim to be a recipient of certain military decorations or medals to obtain tangible benefit.
Houston, who is chapter commander of the Sgt. Timothy Padgett 811 Military Order of the Purple Heart, said that it "happens quite often" that a military medal may end up in a pawn shop or antique store. Those who find one should turn it in to a local chapter of Purple Hearts Reunited, advised Houston.
Awarded since 1917 to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military, the Purple Heart is an important badge of honor in military service and should be regarded as such, Houston said.
"It's the oldest continually used medal in our history," he added. "It's the only medal given out strictly for combat wounds, that's what makes it prestigious. As a recipient, I'm glad they're trying to get a handle on this. People should not be able to buy any military award for heroism or wounds. It takes away from what it truly means."
Panama City News Herald Reporter Collin Breaux contributed to this report. ___