Nearly 80 years after a stark wooden cross was erected at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve by veterans of World War I, and 13 years after it had been removed via an ACLU lawsuit, a seven-foot steel cross was returned to its place of honor in a solemn ceremony on November 11, Veterans Day, at Sunrise Rock.
First erected in the Mojave Desert in 1934 by Riley Bembry and other World War I vets, the cross and its site were maintained over the last several decades by Henry Sandoz, who lived in the area and promised Bembry that he would continue to care for the site after Bembry's death. Over the years Sandoz replaced several crosses which had been stolen or destroyed, eventually erecting a more permanent cross constructed of steel pipes. But in 1994, the site became part of the Mojave National Preserve, and seven years later it was targeted by the ACLU, which sued to have the cross removed after a retired Park Service employee supposedly complained that its presence on public land was a violation of the First Amendment's separation clause.
Ultimately a federal judge ruled for the ACLU, ordering the cross removed, and although Congress arranged for a land trade in 2003 to keep the cross in place, a federal judge blocked the plan from going through. In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the land deal to keep the cross in its original location, ordering the lower court to re-visit the congressional transfer plan. In writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the cross represents “thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”
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Photo of WWI veteran's monument at Sunrise Rock: AP Images