- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2020

The descendants of Pvt. Thomas Kelly always knew the Irish immigrant received the Medal of Honor as a young soldier in the Spanish-American War.

His rescue of wounded comrades in July 1899 while under heavy enemy fire in Santiago, Cuba, is part of family lore.

But the tangible proof of Kelly’s valor, the medal itself, has been missing for decades. All that’s left is a 1973 certificate from the Department of Defense acknowledging the award.

Then, his great-granddaughter saw a recent article in The Washington Times about a German auction house that was offering a Medal of Honor.

“We just jumped out of our skins,” Kasey LeClercq said in an interview.

She had never seen the medal, not even a photograph, yet there it was on the website of the Munich-based auction house Hermann Historica. But the location of Kelly’s medal is once again a mystery: An unidentified private collector bought it for $15,000.

“Our family believes deeply that Thomas’ medal belongs on U.S. soil and with the American people he fought for,” said Mrs. LeClercq, who lives in the Seattle area. “He was a proud Irish American and served most of his life protecting our country.”

The medal disappeared after his death in 1920, and the family has no idea how it ended up with Hermann Historica. Auction house officials wouldn’t reveal how they received it and who bought it at the auction.

Hermann Historica didn’t respond to messages from The Times about the sale.

It is against U.S. law to sell or purchase a Medal of Honor.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation condemned the auction. The U.S. Consulate in Munich asked Hermann Historica not to go forward with the sale.

The auction house, which identified the medal as Kelly’s, refused the appeal to halt the sale because it is legal in Germany to sell military decorations. However, it turned down the family’s request to bid on the medal out of deference to U.S. regulations, Mrs. LeClercq said.

“We really wanted to buy it for our family. We would have done anything. It is priceless to our family,” she said.

Mr. Cruz’s office said in a statement that the sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of America’s highest award for combat valor.

“Medals of Honor represent the best of America and they belong with the families of the heroes who earned them or in a museum for Americans to honor — not with rich collectors in Germany,” Mr. Cruz said.

The senator said he will introduce legislation in the Senate to prevent foreign sales of Medals of Honor with the aim of recovering those that have already been sold.

Thomas Kelly was alone when he left Ireland and entered the United States through Canada. His sister and sole family member later followed him to America. He joined the Army as a teenager and spent much of his life in uniform, family members said.

“His whole life was military,” Mrs. LeClercq said. “His story is really quite profound.”

His family asked the auction house to forward their information to the collector who paid the $15,000 for Kelly’s Medal of Honor, but they have received nothing to indicate that happened.

Mrs. LeClercq said that if the medal can’t be returned to Kelly’s family, then it should at least be on display in a museum open to the public rather than locked away in the cabinet of a private collector.

She wants to share the story of her heroic forebear with her children.

“I want to know more, and I want my kids to know more,” Mrs. LeClerq said. “This is in our blood.”

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