A while ago, I wrote a post about a memorial cross for veterans located in the Mojave National Preserve in California. This cross was considered very controversial because of its placement on public property. It went missing in early 2010 but authorities think it has finally been found– in Half Moon Bay (about 500 miles north of the Mojave). If possible, I’ll attend the re-installation ceremony on Veterans Day and post about it. For now, here’s some local news coverage on this interesting event:
MOJAVE CROSS: Memorial found days before replacement ceremony
BY BEN GOAD
Published: 06 November 2012 03:19 PM
Two years ago, the cross vanished from its perch in the Mojave National Preserve following a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing it to stand. This week, authorities believe they found the stolen memorial more than 500 miles away in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.
Affixed to a fence post with plastic ties, the seven-foot cross was found in good condition late Monday, Nov. 5. Attached to it was a note identifying the cross as an “important historical artifact” and asking whoever found it to alert the authorities.
Rebecca Rosenblatt of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department said investigators believed the cross was the same one stolen from the Mojave Desert. She described their efforts to confirm its authenticity as “similar to identifying a lost child with scars or birthmarks.”
Henry and Wanda Sandoz, who have served as caretakers of the cross for decades, were not so sure. They viewed photographs that showed a box-shaped piece at the base of the cross that was not part of the original construction, Wanda Sandoz said. Either way, the couple intend to go ahead with plans to install a replacement cross this weekend.
“We don’t want to give the nut that took it the satisfaction,” Sandoz said Tuesday.
Mojave National Preserve spokeswoman Linda Slater said the cross is considered evidence and on Tuesday was still being held by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department.
The cross was first erected1934 to honor war dead, and the Sandoz’s have kept watch over its various incarnations as a promise to one of the veterans who first placed it on Sunrise Rock, east of Baker in San Bernardino County. Originally made of wood, the cross had been vandalized and stolen before, prompting Henry Sandoz to make one out of iron and bolt it to the rock.
In the 1990s, the cross became the focal point of a national debate over whether the symbol should be allowed to stand on public land in the Mojave National Preserve. The ACLU, which joined a lawsuit seeking its removal, contended that the cross violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits the government from endorsing any religion.
In the decade that followed, the case wound through the court system, with judges twice ruling that the cross must come down. That ruling came even though Congress had approved a land swap orchestrated by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands that would have left the cross on private land owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In 2010, a divided Supreme Court ruled that that decision to remove the cross did not take proper account of the land transfer and sent the case back to federal district court in California. But the cross was stolen two months later, and the federal government barred supporters from replacing it until a settlement was reached. No arrests were ever made. Another cross appeared shortly after but was quickly ordered taken down.
In April this year, a settlement was reached. The land transfer envisioned by Lewis years earlier was formally completed last week, setting the stage for a Veterans Day ceremony this Sunday, Nov. 11, to install the replacement cross.
Sandoz said she hopes the ceremony will signal the end of the fight to return the cross to its original place. “We felt like maybe this would never happen in our lifetime,” she said.
Now, she said, “we feel like – mission accomplished.”
Also contributing to this report: staff writer Gail Wesson and the Associated Press.
Follow Ben Goad on Twitter: @ben_goad
MOJAVE CROSS CEREMONY
A replacement cross will be erected on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
When: Cross installation, 11 a.m.; rededication ceremony, 1 p.m.
Where: Sunrise Rock, 11.5 miles south of Interstate 15 off Cima Road in the Mojave National Preserve