Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Cross Will Again Rise Above the Mojave Desert

Back in 1934, a group of World War One Veterans traveled deep into the Mojave Desert and erected a simple Christian Cross in honor of the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by their sides. Ever since, this simple cross erected on what was then open land has been maintained by volunteers against the onslaught of weather and vandals.

The original wooden cross fell to vandals and was rebuilt out of steel pipe by Riley Bembrey, a WW1 Medic who was part of the original group who first erected the Veterans Memorial and with a lot of help from friend, Henry Sandoz.

Just prior to his death, Bembrey asked Sandoz to take care of the simple cross in the middle of nowhere, which Sandoz agreed to.

It amounted to just a simple white cross 11 miles from the nearest major highway, sitting atop Sunrise Rock in the middle of a desolate area of the Mohave Desert. To see it, you would have travel miles out of your way to find it.

For nearly 70 years, this simple cross stood in the middle of the Mojave Desert, bothering or offending no one, but offering aging WW1 veterans a place of Solace to remember old friends who died in that war.

The age of Political Correctness and the rise of atheism in the country would change all of that after the land it sat on was declared a National Preserve by the Clinton Administration in 1994.

Within a few years, Frank Buono, once the deputy superintendent of the park, filed a lawsuit protesting the cross, wanting it removed and claiming the crosses presence in the middle of a desolate desert, "[is] really inconsistent with his beliefs and he thinks that the government is, in effect, misappropriating this sacred symbol and trying to give it just a secular meaning” through his ACLU lawyer, Peter Eliasberg.

Buono claims to also be a Veteran as well as a devout Catholic.

Since 2001, the simple plain cross has been the subject of several litigations. It has been ordered removed, covered as it once was by a plywood box and a struggle between those who honor Veterans sacrifices and those who feel they have a right to cleanse the land of anything they think is offensive.

An October 2009 Wall Street Journal article summed it up,
“Judge Robert J. Timlin of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California agreed with that claim, and ordered that the cross be covered up while the case was on appeal. So now a memorial dedicated to those who fought tyranny and oppression is hidden from view by a plywood box.”
“This case is part of a disturbing pattern. Like lawsuits seeking to stop the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited each morning in our public schools or to remove "In God We Trust" from our currency, the ACLU's argument in Salazar v. Buono is based on a misconception of the Constitution—that the government must be hostile to religion.”
“Far more is at stake than a single memorial. If the Supreme Court allows this cross to be destroyed, it could presage the destruction of thousands of similar memorials nationwide, inflicting sorrow on millions of Americans, especially veterans and their families.”
Shortly after the ACLU launched their assault on the Memorial, Congress, with overwhelming bipartisan support, designation the simple cross a “National Memorial,” the only WW1 Memorial to be so designated.
April 28, 2010 saw a divided US Supreme Court decision freeing the simple cross from its plywood box by a 5 to 4 decision. Veterans rejoiced at having their Memorial saved and freed from encasement in the box for all who wish to venture deep into the desert to see and appreciate.

We felt the case was over, but in the dead of night shortly after, a group of vandals stole the cross, removing it entirely and justifying their action in an anonymous letter to the editors of the Desert Dispatch.

Shortly after the theft, another anonymous group erected a replacement cross where the original stood that once spotted, was ordered removed by authorities who cited the “new” cross is not covered by the Supreme Court ruling freeing the stolen cross.

The court battles began again with the ACLU still demanding the destruction of any cross erected on the spot where the original was placed back in 1934 by Veterans.

After nearly another 2 years in the courts, it was with great pleasure to see a news release from the American Legion saying in part, “The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved and signed a settlement agreement between the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to exchange one acre of land at Sunrise Rock for a donated object of equal value.”

Former ACLU attorney and my friend, Rees Lloyd (Life Member American Legion Riverside Post 79; Past Commander District 21 (Cal.); Co-founder and first Director of The Defense of Veterans Memorials Project of District 21 and of The American Legion Dept. of California and the Alliance Defense Fund) sent an email today stating
“The settlement provides for a land swap in which five acres of private land will be donated to the federal government in exchange for one-acre of land on which the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial is located will be transferred to the VFW for care and maintenance to preserve the Veterans Memorial as it once was, with Cross intact.”
“That land exchange is exactly what was established by Congress in legislation authored and sponsored by Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA, 41st District), a decade ago after his constituent veterans in American Legion District 21 (22 Posts, 6,000 members in Riverside County), called on Rep. Lewis to help save the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.”
Yes, you read right. This “new” settlement is exactly what was first proposed and agreed upon by a bipartisan congress long ago!

A Press Release by California Congressman Jerry Lewis, who initiated the transfer a decade ago said,
“It is a relief to end the court action on a case that should never have been in the courtroom in the first place. Congress approved a transfer of land to allow the VFW to maintain a memorial to World War I veterans – it is hard to imagine how such a move could be challenged as government establishment of religion.”
We Veterans and Patriots won this one, but the battle goes on. The war to destroy our Veterans Memorials should they be in t he form of a cross continues. The Mt. Soledad Memorial in San Diego, California is still under threat of destruction since it too is in the shape of a cross as it has been over the past 23 years.

These are our Memorials to our fallen brethren.

We cannot allow atheists and those ruled by Political Correctness to tell us how we honor our fallen.

I fully agree with Congressman Lewis as he says, “I look forward to the day when the Sandoz’s can unveil the refurbished Mojave Cross memorial and turn it over to the VFW for its proper place in honoring our nation’s defenders.”

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