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19th century marksmanship medals returned to National Park Service 3 decades after theft

Two dozen 19th century medals earned by brothers who were world-class rifle shots were returned Wednesday to the National Park Service site in Massachusetts from which they were stolen decades ago.

“The return of these marksmanship medals helps fill in a little bit of that mosaic of that picture of who we are,” Kirsten Talken-Spaulding, the National Park Service’s deputy regional director, said at a news conference at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

Brothers Freeman Bull and Milan Bull, who worked as machinists at the armory for decades, joined the armory’s shooting team in the late 19th century and earned the medals at target shooting contests both in the U.S. and overseas, officials said.

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The medals are “significant pieces of military history and our nation’s heritage,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the FBI’s e, which played a critical role in their recovery.

Bull brothers medals

Two dozen medals belonging to brothers Freeman and Milan Bull were returned to the National Park Service three decades after being stolen from the Massachusetts site they were kept at. (Photo by Dani Beekman, National Park Service, via AP)

In October 2021, authorities got their first clue about the whereabouts of the medals that are believed to have been stolen in the 1990s when a collector in Tennessee contacted curator Alexander MacKenzie wanting to know more about some medals he had recently paid $4,500 for, Bonavolonta said.

“The armory determined that the artifacts in the collector’s collection matched the description of the missing marksmanship medals and contacted the FBI for help in seizing them,” Bonavolonta said.

Bonavolonta stressed that none of those people knew that the medals had been stolen, but the FBI last year filed a civil forfeiture action to recover them for the armory.

What’s remarkable is that the collection remains intact and in good condition despite passing through the hands of several collectors, said Alexander MacKenzie, curator of the Springfield Armory.

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