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Retiring service member fights to get medals replaced

November 1, 2011 8:10:14 PM PDT
A man from Long Island has fought in every U.S. military engagement of the last 20 years: Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

But now on the eve of his retirement, the soldier finds the recognition for those years of bravery stolen from him.

"This was my bronze star medal for service in Iraq," Jeffrey DeRosa said.

Master Sergeant Jeffrey DeRosa received his Bronze Star for his bravery in Iraq where his job was to find roadside bombs.

"This was a lifetime achievement for my contribution to the regiment as you can see it's gone," DeRosa said.

It was gone along with his Bronze Star and his Expeditionary Medal for service in Afghanistan, and another for his tour in Bosnia.

20 years of medals and decorations were stolen from his personal belongings which the Army, through a contractor, recently shipped from Germany to his home in Long Island after he retired.

"I started opening the last boxes, which is where my awards and decorations were in, I felt, like my stomach dropped. I couldn't believe it," DeRosa said.

Jeffrey DeRosa suddenly had one last battle to wage, this one against the Army he spent two decades fighting for.

"Nobody joins the Army to get rich, and that recognition, the culmination of my 20 years, was taken from me," DeRosa said.

He has spent weeks trying to get someone in the Army to help get his medals replaced.

So far, all he's been offered is a lot of red tape and $5 to $10 dollars per medal.

"So they're telling you, just give up the fight to have them replaced?" asked Eyewitness News Investigative reporter Jim Hoffer.

"Take the five dollars a medal and go find them on the internet, you know, go replace them on the internet," DeRosa said.

Authentic Army medals are easy to find on eBay, including the Bronze Star, but there's one problem, attempting to sell or to buy real U.S. Military medals is illegal, punishable by fine, even imprisonment.

That he's been told to break the law to replace what's been stolen adds to his loss.

"I served everywhere they told me to serve for as long as they told me to serve there," DeRosa said, "Why am I now all of a sudden left to fend for myself? Take the money, go on the internet, buy your medals back."

But there's one medal that even the internet black-market can't replace for DeRosa: The Purple Heart which his grandfather received after being shot by the Nazi's in World War Two.

Like the other medals, all that's left is the empty box:

"It was very special and I was entrusted by my family to hold onto it and keep it safe which obviously I wasn't able to do that," DeRosa said.

To help DeRosa, Eyewitness News contacted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who's on the powerful Armed Services Committee.

"When they have done these great acts of bravery that we can stand by them and get them the recognition, the due recognition that these medals convey," Senator Gillibrand said.

"And five to ten dollars compensation for these medals?" Hoffer said.

"Ridiculous. These medals are a statement of our country's gratitude. They are invaluable and we have to make sure that we get him the full medals and get them fully replaced," Senator Gillibrand said.

Eyewitness News contacted the Army several times for a response, but has yet to hear back from them.

Senator Gillibrand is waiting too for the Pentagon to respond to her request to replace all 14 of Master Sergeant DeRosa's medals.

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