Memories worth more than memorabilia

Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?June 29, 2014 

The Fourth of July is almost here, and in today's What's It Worth? we value items of a patriotic nature.

One reader wants to know about her small Spanish-American War pin. Another has questions about medals from the Vietnam era.

Q. Our uncle served in the Navy in Vietnam, and we have some memorabilia from his time there and these two medals. First, can you identify these? Second, do they have any value? Finally, we've heard that we aren't even supposed to have them. What's up with that? -- Larry in Richland

A. We'll tackle your last question first. There were a few years recently when ownership of U.S. military medals by people who did not actually receive the medal was problematic.

It was a federal law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2005. The Stolen Valor Act was supposed to keep people from claiming to be decorated veterans when they were not.

It had many other unintended consequences, such as a family might (or might not) be able to sell a deceased relative's medals or actual recipients themselves might not be able to replace lost medals.

All that is moot now, as two years ago the Supreme Court found the law to be unconstitutional.

As to these two items, the one on the left in your photo was issued by the United States, the other by the then-Republic of Vietnam, aka South Vietnam.

The American "National Defense Service Medal" was issued during several time periods, including the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

All military personnel serving in specific areas were eligible, and hundreds of thousands were awarded. That makes them pretty easy to find and, therefore, not very valuable.

A fair market price would be $5-$10.

The other medal -- the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal -- was awarded by the Vietnamese government to practically every American, Australian and New Zealand soldier and sailor who served "in-country."

Up until the Gulf War, it was the mostly commonly bestowed foreign military award.

So, everyone got one and there are -- like the other medal -- a great number around and the value is also $5-$10.

Q. I've included a dime in the photo of this very small pin. It measures about a half-inch wide and was among the possessions of a relative who served in the Spanish-American War. We've always thought it was from that time, but there is no other information about it in family history. Can you help with identification? -- Barbara in Hermiston

A. This little pin -- most likely meant to be worn on a lapel -- set us off on a real research chase.

It is the same graphic design of other items we have seen from the Spanish-American War, which means it is circa 1900.

That conflict is known historically for "Yellow Journalism," and brought many popular slogans to the forefront.

The most famous is "Remember the Maine," the battle cry to avenge the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in February 1898.

William Hearst's newspapers carried the story across the country, with graphic details, and reported the Spanish had sunk the ship, killing 260 men. It is still a point of contention whether the Maine's sinking was sabotage or an accident.

Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt initially called it an accident, then changed his mind. The issue has never been fully resolved.

But "Remember the Maine" stuck in the patriotic American conscience, as did some other jingoistic images and slogans. One was "One Country, One Flag," which is what this little pin depicts.

Every school child learns about Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders and San Juan Hill. Admiral Dewey was the hero of the Battle of Manila Bay and was celebrated from Atlantic to Pacific.

A third, lesser-known, hero of the war was Richmond Hobson, a navy lieutenant taken prisoner in Cuba after he and six sailors scuttled a coal barge to block the Spanish fleet inside Santiago harbor. It was called a daring suicide mission then, but Hobson is little-known today.

Released after a month, Hobson and his crew became instant celebrities. He dined with the president and later wrote a book about his experiences. Hobson was awarded the Medal of Honor.

While not directly related to Roosevelt, Dewey or Hobson, this pin fits in with all the patriotic fervor of the time. There is minor damage, in that some enamel is missing. Market value is $25-$40.

-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@ gmail.com.

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