Virginia man pleads guilty in WWII dog tags theft

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN 12 November 2019, 12:00AM

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A Virginia National Guard sergeant accused of stealing World War II-era dog tags from the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland has pleaded guilty to a theft charge.

Robert Rumsby of Fredericksburg, Virginia, entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor count of theft on Friday, according to Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Robert Hur's office. Rumsby is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland, Murphy said.

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.

Rumsby referred questions about his guilty plea to his attorney, Peter Fayne, who didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Monday. Rumsby said in an email that he will make a "full statement" at his sentencing hearing.

National Archives staff were investigating possible thefts of artifacts in January 2017 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 criminal 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 in April, 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.

Earlier this year, Rumsby told the Stars and Stripes newspaper he took the dog tags from the facility so he could give them to dead soldiers' families.

"I want to give NARA a fair opportunity to do the right thing as well, now that the broader story has hit the public," Rumsby wrote in an email Monday to an Associated Press reporter.

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.

Rumsby is assigned to the Virginia National Guard's 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. National Guard spokesman A. A. "Cotton" Puryear said Rumsby's unit leaders were tracking the criminal case.

"Once his case has been heard and a decision is reached, his unit leadership will determine the approach action to take," Puryear wrote in an email last month.

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN 12 November 2019, 12:00AM

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