Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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Family to car burglar: ‘Please find it in your heart’ to return stolen Air Force mementos

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Master Sgt. Bob Crowley’s military mementos were stolen on Oct. 26 from his car, which was in a parking lot at the Flamingo. He and his family are offering a reward to have them returned.

The thief who broke into Master Sgt. Bob Crowley’s car last month at the Flamingo didn’t take anything of great monetary value. Among the loot were car insurance documents, a couple of DVDs and a car manual.

In what appeared to be a hurried frenzy to grab everything within reach, the burglar also made off with a small display case containing two military uniforms, a set of nine medals and a pair of dog tags — Crowley’s “career in a box,” the retiring Air Force veteran said.

“Maybe it just looked flashy to them. I don’t know why they would want that,” Crowley said. “It’s kind of beyond me.”

The shadow box and its contents weren’t worth much. Even the medals were made of inexpensive materials, and they were likely valued at no more than $10 apiece. But for Crowley, who is retiring from the Air Force in February after more than two decades of service, the sentimental value of the shadow box’s contents is priceless.

“(Military personnel) work very hard and get a simple memento — a token of all their hard work after all these years,” said his wife, Kelly Crowley. “It’s not valuable to anybody else. It really isn’t. But it was everything to him.”

The burglar broke into Bob Crowley’s 2007 Volkswagen EOS early Oct. 26 while he slept at the Flamingo before picking up his 13-year-old son from McCarran International Airport. They were going on a cross-country road trip to their home in Boston, where the rest of the family waited eagerly because Bob Crowley had not seen them for five months.

The Las Vegas visit was symbolic. It was Bob Crowley’s first stop after leaving Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, his last duty station. He chose the Flamingo because it was frequented by his mother, who died in April 2010.

“The trip was very sentimental,” Kelly Crowley said. “It ended up being a fiasco.”

Bob Crowley and his wife reported the incident to Metro Police and reached out to staffers at the casino, who told them the Flamingo was not responsible for the theft and they would not investigate it. After Kelly Crowley reached out to local media, the hotel reportedly reimbursed Crowley for his stay.

Messages left with spokespeople at Caesars Entertainment, which operates the Flamingo, were not returned.

Determined to get the display case back, Kelly Crowley posted an advertisement on Craigslist urging the thief to come forward. She would match any selling price for the stolen item, the note said.

“I am sure that you must be very desperate for money if you could do this to a person who sacrificed and dedicated his entire life to serving and protecting his country … and YOU,” she wrote. “Could you please find it in your heart to return this?”

She hasn’t gotten the shadow box back weeks after posting the plea, but the advertisement drew an outpouring of support from the military community and even inspired two fellow Air Force servicemen to raise money for a replica case and military garb for Bob Crowley.

“He’s family. Anybody who wears a uniform is family,” said Master Sgt. Chad Smith, one of the men who created the fund and shared news about the theft via Facebook.

The group stopped taking donations once the fund reached $1,000 — a new shadow box costs less than half of that, Smith said. Bob Crowley donated the excess money to a charity benefiting wounded soldiers.

“I’m sure some meth head saw those shiny medals and thought they were worth it,” Smith said. “Unfortunately for him, those medals are about a buck apiece.”

Bob Crowley has a message for the burglar:

“When you pay it forward, good things come to you,” he said. “It’s the same thing the other way. It’s eventually going to catch up to you, even if you don’t get caught now.”

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