The 7-foot-tall metal cross in a 75-year-old war memorial that withstood the heat of the Mojave Desert and a blazing battle in the Supreme Court over its legality was ripped down and stolen Sunday night, according to federal officials.
“This is an outrage, akin to desecrating people’s graves,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the Liberty Institute, which represents the caretakers of the Mojave Desert War Memorial. “It’s a disgraceful attack on the selfless sacrifice of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is re-installed.”
The National Park Service says someone cut the metal bolts holding the metal-pipe cross to the top of the memorial’s Sunrise Rock and made off with it Sunday night or before dawn on Monday.
Authorities had no immediate motive for the theft but National Park Service officials are considering a range of ideas from scrap metal scavengers to people “with an interest in the case,” said Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater.
Veterans groups were outraged by the theft.
“The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice,” said Clarence Hill, the group’s national commander. “While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans memorials will remain sacrosanct.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars first placed a cross on the rock in 1934 to honor troops who died in World War I. The cross that stood at the memorial until this week was erected at a later date.
“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 naïve,” said VFW National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell Sr.
The 75-year-old monument was the target of a legal challenge from the ACLU, which charged the cross is a religious symbol that shouldn’t be allowed on public land. The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to order that it be torn down in a 5-4 decision.
The Liberty Institute is now offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the case, and the National Park Service has established a tip hotline seeking information leading to the recovery of the cross. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Park Service at (760) 252-6120.