Memorial removal at Western Reserve VA cemetery prompts Congressional hearing

September 5, 2018

Memorial removal at Western Reserve VA cemetery prompts Congressional hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last year, the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery upset local veterans and Ohio members of Congress by temporarily removing a “battlefield cross” memorial from its grounds because of complaints that it looked like a rifle.

On Wednesday, a Veterans Affairs subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on a bill that Wadsworth GOP Rep. Jim Renacci introduced that would keep national cemeteries from banning the memorials, which show an inverted rifle embedded in the ground, surrounded by boots and dog tags and topped with a battle helmet.

“This legislation would prevent the National Cemetery Administration from denying veterans the honor they have earned and allowed us to honor them today and in the future with the Battlefield Cross,” said Renacci. “My hope is that this piece of legislation will make its way to the House floor and pass, along with its companion bill in the Senate.”

In testimony delivered at Wednesday’s hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars cited last year’s incident in expressing support for Renacci’s bill.

VFW National Legislative Service Director Carolos Fuentes noted the Ohio display was erected by Strongsville’s VFW Post 3345 near the cemetery’s chapel “as a sign of respect for their fallen comrades buried at the cemetery.”

He said its removal was reversed in three days and the VA subsequently notified all national cemetery directors that battlefield crosses should be allowed its cemeteries.

“While the cemetery ultimately decided to restore the cross, this incident demonstrated the need for a law to protect these memorials,” added testimony from American Legion assistant director Greg Nembhard. “The American Legion seeks to protect these sacred symbols and supports legislation preventing the removal of battlefield crosses in national cemeteries.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs expressed opposition to Renacci’s bill, arguing it wouldn’t allow it to establish standards for the displays. It said the bill doesn’t include size and materials guidelines that the National Cemetery Administration wants ensure that the memorials have a consistent appearance, are durable, and are easily maintained.

Every U.S. House of Representatives member from Ohio has cosponsored Renacci’s bill, and U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown have introduced a Senate counterpart that is before the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. A statement from Portman said the memorial at the cemetery in Rittman was returned after complaints from his office and Renacci’s office.

“We owe our freedom and liberty to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, and nothing should get in the way of honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Portman’s statement said.

Brown released a statement that called the battlefield cross “a sacred tradition of American service members.”

“Government bureaucracy shouldn’t keep Ohio veterans and their families from honoring those who served with this powerful symbol,” Brown’s statement said. “Let’s ensure that this tribute can continue at all national veterans’ cemeteries.”

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