.- The 76-year-old Mojave Desert Cross, a veterans’ memorial which survived a federal court order to remove it from the Mojave National Preserve, was torn down by vandals on Sunday night. Veterans’ groups decried the “disgraceful” vandalism and offered a $25,000 reward for the perpetrators’ capture.
According to the Mojave National Preserve, National Park Service staff reported the cross missing on Monday morning after they went to the site.
Before a Supreme Court ruling in April, the cross had been covered with a plywood box in obedience to a lower court’s order. The U.S. high court ruled that lower courts did not take sufficient notice of the government’s decision to transfer the land to private ownership, adding that federal judges went too far in ordering the removal of a congressionally endorsed war memorial.
A former National Park Service employee, Frank Buono, sued to have the cross removed or covered after the proposed erection of a Buddhist memorial nearby was not approved.
Thomas J. Tradewell, Sr., National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), commenting in a statement, pledged that the memorial will be rebuilt and that the vandals will be caught and prosecuted in federal court.
"This was a legal fight that a vandal just made personal to 50 million veterans, military personnel and their families," he added. "To think anyone can rationalize the desecration of a war memorial is sickening, and for them to believe they won't be apprehended is very naive.”
Tradewell expressed hope that the vandalism will highlight the importance of resolving the case quickly so that the memorial land can be transferred to the VFW.
American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill said in a statement that the dispute about the Mojave Desert Cross was never about one cross but was about “the right to honor our nation's veterans in a manner in which the overwhelming majority supports.”
Reports of the cross’ removal were “very disturbing,” he continued.
"The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice. While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans’ memorials will remain sacrosanct."
The Liberty Institute, which represents the VFW, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the American Ex-Prisoners of War, has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandal or vandals.
Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, said the vandalism was an “outrage” akin to desecrating graves.
"It's a disgraceful act on the selfless act of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is re-installed," Shackelford insisted.