HARRISBURG — Tucked beneath the Finance Building in Harrisburg is the largest working vault in the country. Treasury’s vault was built in 1939, the same year World War II began.
Decades later, medals, ribbons and pins awarded to brave soldiers – from that era and almost every other major conflict and branch of the military – are housed behind the 60-ton vault door. Right now, more than 500 military decorations and memorabilia are protected inside, waiting to be reunited with the veterans who earned them or their families.
As a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, returning these military decorations is probably my favorite part of being Treasurer. They’re priceless, making them the most valuable items to enter the vault – but it’s even more precious when we’re able to send them back to the veteran who earned them, or to their family.
Since taking office in January, I have returned more than 225 military decorations and memorabilia, including two Purple Hearts.
The decorations and memorabilia – ranging from Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars to badges and dog tags – find their way to Treasury’s vault through the unclaimed property program, most often from forgotten safe deposit boxes.
Every military decoration that finds its way to Treasury’s vault is a piece of someone’s story and a symbol of their selfless sacrifice. It’s a true honor to return these decorations and to let my fellow veterans and their families know how much we respect and appreciate their service to our country.
Other items found in abandoned safe deposit boxes, such as jewelry, baseball cards and comic books, are auctioned after about three years. The proceeds are kept in perpetuity for the rightful owner to claim, but military decorations are never sold.
In November, Veterans Day observances remind us of the selflessness and dedication of those who fought for our country. I hope that you will talk to the veterans in your life, learn their stories, and understand the price that was paid and the personal sacrifices they made for our freedoms, and – most importantly – thank them.
If you’re a veteran, or you know veterans and their families, please search Treasury’s military decoration online database at patreasury.gov/unclaimed-property/medals to see if we have any military honors waiting to be returned.