Stolen Mojave Desert cross recovered just before Veteran's Day

Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross Credit Liberty Institute CNA US Catholic News 11 8 12 The original Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross. | Liberty Institute.

The World War I veteran memorial cross that was stolen from the Mojave Desert in 2010 has been recovered just days before the installation of its replacement.

"My reaction was one of surprise," Jim Rowoldt, Veterans of Foreign Wars California Adjutant, told CNA Nov. 8.

The cross, which has served as a memorial for fallen soldiers of the First World War since 1934, was stolen in 2010 following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that it did not violate the separation of church and state.

On Nov. 5, just days before the installation of the new memorial on Veteran's Day, the cross was found with a note identifying it as the one that had been stolen nearly 400 miles away, just outside San Francisco, KGO-TV reported.

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for the Liberty Institute, the organization that represented the caretakers of the cross in the case called the finding "awfully providential."

"They're thrilled that after more than a decade of litigation, they're finally going to be able to see it through to the end and see the memorial restored," Sasser said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, who originally erected the cross, have been planning on installing a replacement cross on the same location at the exact local time anniversary of the end of World War I, which falls on Veteran's Day.

"We're raising it up on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, which is, if you pardon the time change, the actual anniversary of the ending of WWI," Sasser said.

The lawsuit that targeted the cross was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a former National Park Service employee who called for its removal because it was located on public land in the Mojave National Preserve.

Even though a replacement cross has been made for the memorial, the one that was stolen will be returned to Henry and Wanda Sandoz, the caretakers of the memorial.

"I think it'd be appropriate for him to stick it in his front yard," Sasser said of the original cross.

Now that the lawsuit has come to a close and the land for the memorial has been transferred to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, people should take away a deeper respect for war memorials, Sasser said.

"We shouldn't go back and question the choices that were made before by those who earned the right to put it up in the first place," Sasser said.

Although not all war memorials use religious symbols, Sasser said some do as an attempt to "raise the public awareness of the magnitude of the actions of the veterans and what they did."

Overall, he said, "I think we should just respect the choices that they make regarding their own memorial."

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