Lori Carey Photography

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Mojave Cross Revisited

The Mojave Cross standing atop Sunrise Rock once again
The Mojave Cross Memorial in 2013

While in the eastern Mojave last week I had to stop by and see the Mojave Cross finally uncovered. The last time I visited this location in 2009 the cross was covered with plywood while a 13-year legal battle over its constitutionality played out in the federal court system.

After the first World War many veterans moved to the eastern Mojave to recover from the physical and psychological injuries of the war, becoming prospectors or ranchers. The Mojave Cross was originally erected in 1934 as memorial to WWI veterans by the local VFW and was cared for by J. Riley Bremby, a WWI veteran who had a mining camp nearby.The land was later acquired by the government in 1994 as part of the Mojave National Preserve. A retired park system employee who lived out of state filed a lawsuit in 1999 to have the cross removed. After the long drawn-out legal battle it was finally decided in 2010 that ownership of a one-acre parcel of land would be transferred to the VFW in a land swap for 5 acres elsewhere in the Mojave (donated by a private party) and the cross was allowed to stay. The cross was stolen within days of the verdict. It was found two years later tied to a fence post in the San Francisco Bay area. The veterans decided to start fresh and built a new white iron cross, this time filled with concrete to make it harder to steal. On Veterans Day in 2012 it was dedicated with much ceremony.

Now the location is cabled off, with signs clearly marking it as private property and as a war memorial, both at the entrance and embedded into the rock. When I visited in 2009 it was just a simple cross on a rocky outcropping (although boarded up) in the middle of nowhere with a few flags tucked into the crevices. Now it's fences and signs.

The Mojave Cross at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California stood for 70 years to honor American lives lost at war. Placed in 1934 by members of the V.F.W. to honor those lost in WWI, it had become the subject of a Supreme Court battle with the ACLU over the right to have a Christian symbol on public land and in 2002 it was ordered that the cross be covered while the legal debate played out. After the Supreme Court ruling in May 2010 that permitted the cross to stay but remanded the case to district court to determine if it could be uncovered, vandals stole it in the middle of the night. As of this time the fate of a replacement is still undetermined.
The Mojave Cross Memorial in 2009

I came across a statue of Buddha somewhere in the desert along my travels. Who knows if it was on private or public land, the Mojave is such a patchwork of public and private ownership that the only way to know for sure is to check a parcel map. I wasn't offended that someone whose faith didn't exactly match mine had traveled the same ground I was traveling and had left something behind. I hope that some day we understand that tolerance is about understanding and appreciating each others' differences, not trying to squash them or fence them off.

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