In the predawn hours of May 1, thieves towed away a World War I-era cannon from outside the Veterans Memorial Hall in Richmond, Calif. — where the artillery piece had stood for 70 years — and later sold it to an unsuspecting buyer.

It was an audacious caper, but not an uncommon one. American war memorabilia is so hot that thieves are robbing VFW halls, museums, and even graves to supply a black market that operates online, in flea markets and through a murky network of rabid collectors, according to law enforcement and dealers tasked with identifying stolen items — some worth thousands.

“There’s definitely a market for it,” said Pat Chaisson, of Scotia, N.Y., a retired Army National Guard officer, history buff and longtime collector of military and war memorabilia.

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