These now retroactively preserved artifacts - whose history the Army was uniquely qualified to appreciate before it scrapped them as unwanted trash - gained instant bureaucratic value this week when they were repriced by the howls of scandalized outsiders. Decibels of embarassment were converted into units of measurable historic significance for those custodians who had earlier behaved as vandals.
Again, as with the Walter Reed fiasco, the Army acted after a WaPo expose embarassed the brass.
To anyone who ever watched or read a Lovejoy mystery, the underlying operation is as basic as A-B-C:
...the company performing the renovation replaced the urns with modern replicas and was allowed to take away the originals...If you know the value of things, renovation can be more than just a business: in the right situation, it's a racket.
I once had charge of a unique collection of high value paintings owned by the Army; the president of a certain republic imagined our Army high command appreciated presents of rare art and made many such. How dealers knew that these pieces were then in my custody I still wonder.
The most memorable offer I received was that in exchange for one of the paintings in my care, I could have any painting of my choice from the national museum. This immediately told me that any piece I might name was already a copy, or at least that copies were circulating of the whole national catalog as if they were the originals. Nice business, antiques and art.
Another example. The 9th Infantry does not exist as a regiment anymore and its artifacts were in the hands of the Second Division some decades ago; these included astonishingly elaborate dragon-draped silver punchbowls and cups worked by Chinese craftsmen at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. I drank from these a few times (my 1/17th Bn was brigaded with the 2/9th). I wonder if these heirlooms were replaced with replicas by now. A few weeks ago at a Christmas party, an antiques dealer amused me by standing back 10 feet from place settings calling out which items were plate and which were sterling. There's a punchbowl half a world away I wished he could have surveyed as well. The big threat to antique silver right now, he said, was meltdown for cash.
The inventory of its treasures is (or was) fragmented in the Army, with nothing like the property/inventory safeguards surrounding, say, firearms. The idea of the defense budget going to preserve these things - and they are not nearly all in military museums - is weird and their custody is spotty.
We need an inventory of the armed forces' historical and cultural artifacts; we need ownership of these to pass out of the hands of the armed forces. We will be astonished at the holdings disclosed, I promise.