Mojave Desert Cross is Stolen

Mojave Desert Cross is Stolen

Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the religious symbol to remain on federal land, thieves have stolen a cross in the Mojave Desert that was built to honor Americans who died in war.

The 7-foot-high cross was stolen late Sunday or early Monday by thieves who cut the metal bolts that attached the symbol to a rock in the sprawling desert preserve, National Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater said.

“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 wooden cross on the rock in 1934 to honor the dead troops of World War I. The latest cross — made of metal — was put up in the late 1990s by the memorial’s longtime caretakers, Henry and Wanda Sandoz.  “I was really upset and I was crying, and I said: ‘Well, we’ll show them. We’ll put up a bigger one and a better one,” she said. “And Henry said: ‘No we won’t. We will put one up exactly like the veterans put up.'”

“He’s wanting to go right now and put another one up,” Wanda said of her husband. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to do. He’s 71 years old and he’s rarin’ to go, I’ll tell you.”

The cross has provoked a tremendous amount of debate over the years among civil libertarians, veterans and the courts.

Federal courts ruled that the cross was unconstitutional and rejected a congressional effort to solve the issue by transferring the property into private hands.

The high court last month sent the property issue back to a lower court again and, in the meantime, refused to order its removal. Six justices wrote separate opinions.

Authorities had no immediate motive for the theft but  said possible suspects range from scrap metal scavengers to people “with an interest in the case,” Linda Slater said.