Auction House Confronted About Military Medals

| February 4, 2020

We carried a story here last week about the Bird family complaining that an auction house was selling medals allegedly belonging to their service member that was KIA.

It seems the auction house was confronted about all of this and they insist that the medals are real.

Cleveland 19 News carries another story about this ongoing situation.

Our CBS affiliate talked to the frustrated family members in Pittsburgh, who say that they have all of their relatives medals.

The Bird brothers say the Marine medals with their brother’s name on them that were listed for sale can’t be real.

But, as we investigated, we actually discovered it is possible for families to have several real copies of a medal.

“I know that no one in my family would have ever ask for duplicate medals,” one of the Bird brothers said. “There’s no reason. We had all of his medals. There would be no reason for us to do that.”

In an effort to be fair and get both sides of this story, 19 News tracked down the warehouse that the online auction house runs out of.

The owner didn’t want to go on camera, but let us in and gave us information.

Lt. Thomas Bird’s medals sold for more than $1,200 at Milestone Auctions, along with tons of other military memorabilia.

The owner here says his reputation depends on selling authentic items. He has an expert look at all the items that come in, and he sends the ones he deems fake back to whoever sent them in.

When Lt. Bird’s medals came in, the expert deemed them authentic.

The auction house still insists they are real, saying the engraving on the back is perfect.

The owner of the auction house says he’s seen many cases where family members don’t know other relatives ordered duplicate medals and later sold them.

It seems to me that the family members that claim to have had duplicate copies of the medals should come forward and say they sold them.  I don’t know how this works, but maybe there are privacy issues involved with revealing their names.  Shouldn’t be too hard to narrow down, however… if in fact this is true.

Category: Viet Nam, Vietnam

Comments (28)

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  1. 11B-Mailclerk says:

    How closely does the Government check who is “family”? Could someone order a duplicate set for his “uncle” or “cousin” without proof? If proof is required, is that proof actually checked?

    If not, I see potential for a lucrative scam.

    • 5th/77th FA says:

      I’m wid you 11B. Any number of ways to get any medal ever awarded. As we talked about the other day, they are in pawn shops, estate sales, thrift stores, ect… Every Jewelry store in the world does in house engraving, even the machines can be bought, And as we have seen sooooooo many times, just about every family has at least one dirtbag that would be low enough to profit off of the sacrifice that some other family member made.

      • 11B-Mailclerk says:

        If the folks issuing replacements do not check credentials or relations, nothing stops Connie Collector from claiming kinship and replacements for all sorts of semi-famous or semi-noteworthy folks.

  2. HT3 '83-'87 says:

    Not going on camera is a YUGE red flag…YUGE!

    “The owner here says his reputation depends on selling authentic items…” How authentic are you if you won’t show your face? His business model is selling surplus medals at a big mark-up after attaching a fallen heroes back story. Power to the consumer…buyer beware!

  3. OWB says:

    Uh, well. So far the family has the more credible side of this story. Still, difficult to impossible to know for sure.

    Not arguing if the awards are “real.” They could very well be “real” while also being a duplicate set instead of the originals given to next of kin. Or some other variation. The surviving family members may or may not be aware of the complete history of what is in their possession.

    Dunno, but it doesn’t look good for any of the participants.

  4. FuzeVT says:

    The only medal that I have ever heard of that is engraved with the name of the recipient on the obverse is the Medal of Honor.

    ► Is it typical to have one’s name engraved on Vietnam era medals?

    None of the ones I ever got were engraved. (awarded from 95-19)

    • Comm Center Rat says:

      My grandfather’s Purple Heart is engraved with his name. He was KIA in WW II.

      I served mostly in the 1980s and 90s and never received any engraved medals.

      • cc senor says:

        I don’t know what the deal is now, but back in the day “live” recipients could request engraving after the fact.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      In theory, even the Army Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and Good Conduct Medal were supposed to be engraved before we awarded them.

      If anyone was doing so, I couldn’t find them when I was clerking awards. “We haven’t time for that. Just get the orders and certificate right.”

    • Peter the Bubblehead says:

      Not a single medal I was awarded was ever engraved, and I could just as easily buy replacement medals at the Navy Exchange if I ever felt the need to re-mount my medals.

      (Sometimes it was easier to simply start from scratch than try and re-mount medals when you got a new award.)

      The only military device I was ever presented with my name and rate engraved on it was my original set of silver dolphins, which after they were awarded to me were never again worn on my uniform. And I cannot tell you how many pairs of dolphins I have bought form the NEX or Army/Navy stores in the decades since I qualified.

      I am confused why anyone would spend thousands of dollars on any other person’s medals.

  5. JURASSICHM says:

    This whole medals auctioning business sounds like a scam. The auction house is making money off another’s valor. “the engraving on the back is perfect” Well duh. Engraving machines have a tendency to produce a great result.

  6. Martinjmpr says:

    So, when a family member orders “duplicate” or “replacement” medals, there’s got to be a record of that SOMEWHERE, right?

    I work for the Federal government. Every time somebody does something, there’s a record and for the last 20 years or so (at least) those records are going to be on a computer system.

    So it shouldn’t be that difficult to prove that a duplicate set of medals was ordered if, in fact, they were, right? Just go to the office where one orders duplicate medals, type in the veterans name and see if there is a record of duplicate medals being ordered.

    • Martinjmpr says:

      And if the auction house tries to say that the records that show these are legitimate are not available because they pre-date electronic record keeping, then that’s a problem for the auction house.

      After all, just a plain medal isn’t worth more than a few dollars. What they are selling are “authentic” medals of a specific individual.

      That means that the proof of the medal’s provenance is part of what they are selling. If they are selling something that they claim to be “original medals presented to the family of XYZ” then they must be including something that indicates they are genuine.

      And if they have reason to believe they are NOT genuine but they sell them as such anyway, they are committing fraud.

      Unfortunately I don’t think Lt. Bird’s family has any recourse here, but if they can get in contact with the person who bought their relative’s medals, they might suggest to him that he’s been scammed and at the very least should get his money back.

  7. ArmyATC says:

    Are duplicate medals engraved by the government? I seem to remember seeing someplace that duplicates weren’t, but I’ve seen nothing “official” about it.

  8. AW1Ed says:

    On line, the Purple Heart goes for $39.95, DFC $29.95, Air Medal $25.95. Less than 100 bucks for the trio. A little engraving and $1150 in profit? I’m sure it never crossed the auctioneer’s mind.

  9. David says:

    To complete a shadow box display of my Dad’s patches, rank insignia, and awards, I came up short a Bronze Star. Cost $35 from a street vendor near the Lincoln Memorial.

  10. Skyjumper says:

    I personally have first hand knowledge of getting replacement medals from the government.

    A while back, I was sending in paperwork to see what awards my Dad had earned from WWII. At that time, I also decided to sent in a request for a replacement Air Medal and a Good Conduct Medal that I had never received when I first ETS’d from the Army back in 1971.

    What was interesting, was that St. Louis had sent me a DD215 showing I had earned an AM while in VN. Later, when I signed up on AKO (Army Knowledge Online), I found a set orders (along with a number of other soldiers names) for the GCM. I brought this to the Army’s attention, and about six months later received another DD215 with the GCM on it.

    Since I had never received either medal before this, I sent in a request for replacement medals. When they arrived, to my surprise, BOTH of them had my name engraved on the reverse side. None of the other medals that I was awarded had my name on them.

    So to answer your question ArmyATC, yes they do engrave duplicate medals, at least in my case they did.

    Here are a couple of links for the process of replacing lost, stolen or never received medals.

    Hope this info helps someone.

    • Mason says:

      I never got any, so I might just do this. Would make a nice shadow box without spending more than $100 on a bunch of medals. Thanks.

    • ArmyATC says:

      I think we’re talking about two different things. In your case, you were getting awards that you were never given. What I’m talking about is different. In the case I read (can’t remember where), the widow of a soldier received his awards and they were engraved. His parents were given a duplicate set that wasn’t engraved. They were told the original medals were given to their son’s widow. That leads to my question about duplicate sets. If a service member lost or had stolen his or her original awards, would the replacement set be engraved?

      • Skyjumper says:

        ArmyATC, the answer to your question… “would the replacement set be engraved”?

        The answer appears to be, YES.
        (Please see below for info per Army Regulation 600–8–22)

        I know a couple of vets that had lost/misplaced their medals due to moving, etc., that received replacements that were engraved. YMMV, though.

        1–34. Engraving of awards
        The grade, name, and organization of the awardee are engraved on the reverse of the MOH. The name only of the
        awardee is engraved on the reverse of every other decoration, the POW Medal and the AGCM. When possible,engraving will be accomplished prior to presentation. When this is impracticable, awardees will be informed that they
        may mail the decoration (POW Medal or AGCM) to Commander, U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments
        Command, Clothing and Heraldry Product Support Integration Directorate, Post Office Box 57997, Philadelphia, PA
        19111–7997, for engraving at Government expense.

  11. Radioactive G-Spot says:

    I ordered replacement medals for my uncle who was KIA in Vietnam as a gift for my father. The Bronze Star, PH, Army Comm., and Good Cookie came engraved, the NDSM and campaign medals did not. At the time a person had to be immediate family (parent/sibling) to request. No “proof” had to be given besides a signature.

    • SFC D says:

      I don’t know how the rest of you dickweeds and dickweedettes feel about this, but I’m thinking the above poster deserves a laurel and hearty handshake for the creative name!