UPDATED: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a blessed year!


’tis Christmas Day, and a time where we can all reflect on what is truly most important in our lives. Is it quality and quantity of gifts? Or the quality of family, loved ones and friends. Tho we all wish we had unlimited funds so we can lavish those we care about with presents, our economic times are requiring so many of us to make do with less. Perhaps this is a good thing, as it will focus more on the act of giving of oneself instead of the offering.

One young soldier in West Michigan, faced with hard times here at home, found himself making a different kind of sacrifice. He walked in to A-Z Outlet pawn shop to sell one of two Purple Hearts awarded to him for service in Afghanistan in order to make ends meet for Christmas.

The Purple Heart service medal

In a lit glass case, nestled between a sterling silver necklace and a black Citizen watch, sits a Purple Heart, an unfortunate souvenir of the war in Afghanistan.

It’s a reminder to all who walk by looking to buy an old treasure or collect a new one, that some things in life don’t have a price tag.

The medal, which was sold in November by a West Michigan man serving in the military, now sits in a case at A-Z Outlet, a pawn shop on North River Avenue owned by Bryan VandenBosch.
“He was falling on hard times,” VandenBosch said of the sale. “He said the same thing everybody else who comes in here says. He was short on funds.”

The pawn shop owner, Bryan VandenBosch, has seen just about everything come thru his doors in his 19 years of business… but never a Purple Heart. Mr. VandenBosch will not be selling that medal.

VandenBosch said he’s not sure if the gentleman will ever come back to retrieve his award, but in the meantime, no one else will ever have it in their hands.

“I won’t ever sell it. If he ever decides he wants it, it will be here waiting for him.”

Merry Christmas, Mr. VandenBosch… and thank you for honoring that soldier’s sacrifice by holding it for him. Perhaps if someone is looking for a wonderful gift to give, and the means to do so, they can contact Mr. VanderBosch and see if they can help that medal find it’s way back into that soldier’s hands.

A-Z Outlet221 N River Ave
Holland, MI 49424
(616) 738-1603


UPDATE Dec 27th, 2011: I had this post ready to go a couple of days before Christmas… so now an end to the story. From the time the Purple Heart news hit the Holland Sentinel on Monday, Dec 19th edition, the story went viral across America. It wormed it’s way to CNN, and then websites like Flopping Aces. Pawn shop owner, Bryan VandenBosche was inundated with phone calls and offers to pay the loan so the medal could be returned to the soldier at no cost. In an op-ed on Christmas Day, the Holland Sentinel let us know that the shop owner returned the medal to the soldier on Friday, the day before Christmas Eve, at no cost to the veteran.

VandenBosch, who found himself having to take his shop’s phone off the hook, refused to give details except only to say he did not take money from anyone for the medal. As to the specifics, he honors the privacy of clientele for their reasoning in pawning personal items… saying “I don’t ask people why they need money or what they’ll do with it when they come in. They want to be able to take care of themselves.”

The Sentinel’s Christmas Day op-ed reflected on the outpouring of offers to help from the nation. The verbiage was somewhat stunning, as the “editorial board” author couldn’t seem to resist a tinge of politics, and genuinely seemed to be left, proverbially scratching his/her head, as to why so many would race to the aid of a stranger without knowing the full story and details. Especially for an item they labeled as something of paltry monetary value.

Many offers came to The Sentinel as well. “As a three-time wounded Vietnam Veteran that comes as no surprise. I would still like to make a contribution to the veteran’s family … ,” said an e-mail from a man in Santa Maria, Calif. “As a vet myself, it is hard for me to not feel deeply for this veteran that shed blood for this country, and yet is in such a position that his was force to pawn a medal that he honorabl(y) earned … ,” read another.

It’s interesting that the story of the pawned Purple Heart struck such a chord when so few facts are known for sure. The serviceman declined a request for an interview. We don’t know if he is in dire financial straits or temporarily short on cash, like a lot of people. Even if he were desperate, he couldn’t have gotten much for pawning the medal — anyone can buy a Purple Heart online for $35. But while a Purple Heart doesn’t have much intrinsic value, it’s considered symbolically priceless, so a service member giving it up voluntarily would seem to be a rare act.

Regardless of the unknowns, the narrative of the “down-on-his-luck” serviceman pawning a medal correlates with the national concerns about the difficulties veterans are facing in today’s tough economy — the unemployment rate for veterans 20-24 years old is nearly 30 percent, it’s reported.

Stories of people in need abound at this time of year, but stories about veterans draw particular concern. Perhaps this heightened attention is due to an awareness that in 21st century America, where we fight wars with an all-volunteer military and no tax increases or other home-front sacrifices, a very small segment of society is paying the cost for our overseas engagements. Occupy Wall Street protesters rail at the “1 percent” — the super-rich of America. But there’s another 1 percent out there — the service members and their families who are bearing virtually the entire burden for the war in Afghanistan and the recently concluded conflict in Iraq. Amid the legitimate appreciation for the efforts of our service members, when those of us in the other 99 percent read stories about pawned military medals, we rightly feel a little guilt too about the disparity between our comfort and their sacrifice.

Perhaps the Holland Sentinel is new to the generous Americans who honor their warriors. Maybe they’ve been watching those in the infestant protest camps so long that the forget just who the really 99% is, and how they feel about those who serve. I’m bothered that they decided to place a low value on the medal, and allude to the idea that if it was so little cash, how desperate could he be? We don’t know, nor is it our business. But the $35 could keep the electric on, or buy a Christmas dinner in that moment. The reasons for pawning the medal are the soldier’s own, and remain none of our business.

But I’m proud that I live in a nation who, when hearing of this story, did pick up the phone to see what they could do… even if they had very little themselves. Aside from the return of the medal, that nation’s response must have been a heartwarming Christmas gift for that soldier indeed. END UPDATE


With troops returning from Iraq, and more still in Afghanistan, waiting for their time to return to family and friends here in the states, they will already have their demons with which to contend – reliving memories of brutal warfare with an enemy who has no sense of honor. Yet when they have finished their service to country, they will come to a new battle in the homeland – that of financial survival in an economy that is extremely tough for so many.

My heart goes out to them, and I particularly wish our soldiers and military families a Christmas filled with the blessings of love and joy, and hopes that they will face this battle with the same valor they did overseas. May the angels always watch over you and yours.


This Christmas, there’s another shout out of note I’d like to make.. and that is of our very own FA author, Scott Malenski. When Scott and his family faced tough times, and watched their Ohio community deteriorate into a collection of vacancy signs, Scott went into action…. turning a negative into a positive. Scott started up The Stew Pot Kitchen, where those who really need good food, but can rarely afford it, can pick up a hot meal at Scott’s for not much more than it takes to feed a parking meter downtown.

Scott isn’t on the path to becoming Emeril, or even a wealthy man. That was never his goal. It was his way to make sure that his community members thrived, never gave up hope, and had something warm in the belly. I’m very proud of you, my friend Scott, as I’m sure the rest of us here at FA are. You’ve shown us the true spirit of Christmas isn’t a once a year event.


To all our FA friends, their families and communities, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a New Year prosperous in all the things that count the most… shelter, warmth, love, joy and family.

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Merry Christmas to everyone! ( regardless of political views.)

Merry Christmas Mata.

And Merry Christmas to Curt and rest of the authors here at FA, and to all the regulars who frequent this great website.

Most of all, may God bless & keep all of our brave military, both here in America and around the world – Thank you for your service!!

It’s a sad commentary on this country when a combat-injured Vet has to sell his Purple Heart.

Shame on us.

Thanks Mata.


A beautiful POST, thank you, I like the shiny ANGELS too, do you know how much the PURPLE HEARTH ,
owner was given?
best wishes for you

I’m in, if there is a way to return his PURPLE HEARTH, which only belong to him alone, for his children to have as memories in the future, I can chip in, if there is a fund from FA, you can count on me.
do we still have paypal? that would be a project to have, no time limit necessary but for this year,he must get it back,
there must be a number on the medal to identify the medal registerd to another place with his name alone, maybe within the military agency. we can get it to be kept secret,
MATA THEY MUST TAKE a minimum of ID, BECAUSE they could end up buying stolen objects if not, and they can loose their business for that.

talking about a nice present for a community living in mobile house on a park own by a citizen who did not pay his water taxes wich had all the TENANTS BEEN CUT OF OF WATER FROM THE CITY,
SOME RADIO STATIONS, 2 of them, deliver one thousand bottles waters, for them, amount to one thousand liters. and they where very happy.
just to say, how important the right present is, and I was dining with my friend at the FARM, and the men,
received wool socks because they work out in the cold in all seasons, and they where very happy too,
and the TURKEY COOKED IN THE WOOD STOVE OVEN WAS FABULOUS, with the stuffing and cranberies and pickle and sauce and beets and all home made pies apple lemon butterscotch pumpkins,
wow you couldn’t get better in any fancy place, and the smell of the log burning, in that century old
giant stove inside that old humble house in the woods hidden like a jewel. and I was happy to be served
gracefully like I was special.

you know the more I think about that medal, the more I think the pawnshop owner was not allowed to take it, unless he had a signature of the owner, because of the importance of the medal donated to one only person forever his own. I think he could contact the place where they decide to hand the medals to the soldier, to make sure of what I’m saying, because he is not allowed to keep it,
or he return it to his owner who came with, and we can help to pay for it, or he return it to his owner
and loose his money.

I was thinking; why where you in the pawnshop if you don’t pawn anything,
you sure you didn’t pawn something there,
we can get it back for you too. even if it years ago.

I feel sad, because he sold it in CHRISTMAS time, that mean he sold it to get a present to give,
to his family, on a spur of a moment, and that is not right for the shop owner to keep it, he wont be lucky if he doesn’t returned it, he took advantage of a warrior in distress, he could have give without receiving,
I suspect the soldier had just came back from the WAR, and was not thinking straight.at that time.
my offer still stand

thank you, can you find if he has a name , or else id, a way to give the soldier his medal back,
and I will start paying for it incognito to the soldier, only to the pawn broker,
as soon as we know the medal is in the hands of the soldier, that must be the first move,

we also need an amount number to pay.

thank you for that red line linking me to the source,
I read the story and I went to the comments down below, and CLEO’s comment said she checked with
MR. VANDERBOSH, and was told, it was already done and paid for,
because of your SMART WAY of POSTING, and ability of giving details, it got a resolution to our wish
to end the story brilliantly, and be happy for it,

if he had come to my American Legion Post 215….he would have gotten whatever he needed and kept the medal besides….so many Veterans do not realize that other Veterans are out here ready to help if we are but given notice….if you are a Veteran in need reading this….contact your local American Legion we will help…we continue to serve….Merry Christmas

yes I believe that you thought it is him, I’m so glad you posted it, so we could learn about so many wanted to help THAT GREAT HERO, it is and will remain the story of CHRISTMAS 2011 WHICH TOUCH SO MANY HEARTH SHOWING THE IRAK MILITARY WHO ARE BACK HERE, THEIR REAL AMERICA TO BE PROUD OF COMING BACK TO.

THANK YOU for the update, you know I was surprise of the AMOUNT GIVEN, and sad too,
I had in mind a couple of hundreds dollars the minimum, also not to forget the SILVER ON IT, it has increase so much more than last year,
well a good story ending. bye

Scott Malensek
I cannot end this year by wishing you the BEST COMING NEW YEAR, ALL ALONG,
I did saw your name on MATA’S POST, but I was concentrating only on the medal pawned
by the soldier,
and that took my attention, that was then, now 29th of DECEMBER, MY THOUGHTS IS TO YOU
and you’re kindness which will bring you much more in future, as the word is spreading on you’re soup restaurant, I find such a great idea,