The historian stole dog tags along with various documents, including personal letters, photographs, a Bible and pieces of downed US aircraft, from 2012 to 2017. DeHays was able to obtain the relics by using his researcher identification card to get access to the US' National Archives research room in College Park, Maryland.
Some of the tags sold by the 33-year-old had dents and showed evidence of charring due to fires during crashes of Allied planes that were shot down within areas controlled by Germany, according to WTOP. Two of the dog tags stolen belonged to Tuskegee Airmen.
Though the majority of the personal effects were sold on eBay and elsewhere, DeHays stated during his sentencing that he'd kept some items in order to set up a collection for his dream museum, AP reported.
"At that time I saw it as a sacrifice I had to make if I wanted my dream to come true," the Washington Post reported DeHays saying. "It was irrational behavior and a lack of judgement that I regret every day."
With DeHays having stolen nearly 300 dog tags and 130 other records, Joe Davis, a spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, remarked at the hearing that the disgraced historian "isn't just a thief, he's a grave robber."
Court documents also showed that DeHays lured some potential buyers by promoting graphic details, saying some had stains of fuel and blood.
"[DeHays'] sentence sends a strong message to others who may contemplate stealing our nation's history," Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said in a press release Tuesday. "The theft of records from the National Archives amounts to stealing from the American people and it merits a severe penalty whenever it occurs."
"I remain shocked and angered that a historian would show such disregard for records and artifacts. As a veteran, I am disgusted that anyone would steal records and artifacts documenting those captured or killed in the service of their nation," Ferriero continued.
The official later stated that he would work to "improve our policies and procedures to ensure our holdings are safe." The National Archives is currently working to recover items from buyers.
After serving his prison sentence, DeHays will be on probation for three years. He is also expected to complete 100 hours of community service.