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Virginia Guardsman gets probation for stealing dog tags of WWII airmen from National Archives

Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press

Virginia Guardsman gets probation for stealing dog tags of WWII airmen from National Archives
GREENBELT, Md. — A Virginia National Guard sergeant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months of supervised probation for stealing World War II-era dog tags from the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo also ordered Robert Rumsby, 30, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, to pay a $5,000 fine. Rumsby had faced a maximum sentence of 1 year of incarceration after pleading guilty in November to one misdemeanor count of theft.

Rumsby told investigators he took dog tags that belonged to four U.S. airmen killed in plane crashes in 1944, according to a criminal complaint. Rumsby's wife is the great niece of one of the deceased airmen. Rumsby said he gave that airman's dog tags to his wife's grandmother as a Christmas gift and gave another airman's dog tags to a relative of that serviceman, the complaint says.

The magistrate said Rumsby's sentence is designed to promote respect for the law and serve as a deterrent to protect "national treasures" stored at the National Archives.

"They are there for everyone's benefit," DiGirolamo said.

Defense attorney Peter Fayne said Rumsby wasn't motivated by greed or self-interest when he took the dog tags from the College Park, Maryland, facility.

"His heart and intent were in the right place, but he accepts full responsibility for the grave mistake he made," Fayne said.

Rumsby, who cradled his infant daughter in his arms during the hearing, said in a letter submitted to the court that he had asked National Archives officials in 2011 if dog tags and other personal items could be released to soldiers' relatives. He said he didn't get a response to his written request.

"I have not stood my tallest with the actions that have landed me here today, but in my honest and humble opinion, (neither) has NARA," he wrote.

Richard Christian Naylor, NARA's deputy chief operating officer, said all four of the dog tags that Rumsby stole have been recovered.

"The items stolen by Mr. Rumsby are unique and irreplaceable," he said. "Ultimately, it is the American people who are most greatly victimized when artifacts are stolen."

Rumsby isn't the first visitor to be accused of stealing from the National Archives facility in College Park. Antonin DeHays, a French historian and author, was sentenced in April 2018 to one year in prison after pleading guilty to stealing at least 291 dog tags and other relics, most of which he sold on eBay and elsewhere for a total of more than $43,000.

The College Park facility stores thousands of dog tags that were seized by the German Luftgaukommandos, which prepared reports on Allied aircraft crashes during World War II.

In January 2017, National Archives staff were investigating possible thefts of artifacts when they discovered that dog tags belonging to World War II aviator Theodore Ream were missing from a box Rumsby had accessed several weeks earlier, according to the complaint. Rumsby's wife is the great-niece of Ream. Investigators recovered Ream's dog tag from a shadow box at the grandmother's home in Chesapeake, Maryland.

In 2015, Rumsby also accessed a box that contained dog tags for three airmen who died in a July 21, 1944, plane crash. When investigators questioned him, Rumsby retrieved the dog tags for two of those airmen from a shelf in his home and said he had given the third dog tag to a relative of that airman, the complaint says.

Rumsby was quoted in an April 2018 article in the New York Times about civilians volunteering to identify the remains of soldiers in U.S. military cemeteries. The article said Rumsby, a former Army lieutenant, had spent years indexing unknown graves from World War II.

Rumsby has been assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. National Guard spokesman A. A. “Cotton” Puryear has said Rumsby’s unit leaders were tracking the criminal case and would determine whether any military administrative action would be appropriate once the case is resolved.


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