Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fallen Marine's Widow Pleads with Marine Official to Keep Camp Pendleton Memorial Cross

From Thomas More Law Center:

December 14, 2011

ANN ARBOR, MI – In a letter written on behalf of a Marine widow and her seven year old son, the Thomas More Law Center urged camp commander, Colonel Nicholas F. Marano, USMC, to defend the memorial cross erected this past Veterans Day at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in California. [Click here to read letter] The memorial cross in question was a replacement for the original cross erected in 2003 and later destroyed by a brush fire in 2007.

Religious - Original Cross 2003

Original memorial cross being carried in 2003, later
destroyed by a brush fire in 2007

According to press accounts, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and Americans United for a Separation of Church and State have demanded that Camp Pendleton officials remove the replacement cross because it is an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

To Elena Zurheide, however, the 13 foot wooden memorial cross sitting atop a steep hill has nothing to do with establishing a religion. It has everything to do with the memory of her husband, Lance Corporal Robert P. Zurheide who was killed in 2004 during the bloody fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. Their son Robert was born a month after his death.

People - Robie Zurheide on cross

Lance Corporal Zurheide's son Robbie

The original memorial cross was carried to the top of a steep hill in 2003 by Lance Corporal Zurheide and six other Marines belonging to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division as a memorial to those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The cross quickly became a memorial marker as Marines and families of fallen Marines made the difficult hike up the hill to place items of remembrance at the foot of the cross. They have displayed sand from Iwo Jima to remember those Marines who have gone before us, and sand from Fallujah, to remember those Marines who more recently made the ultimate sacrifice. It is quite common to find rocks with messages, coins, dog tags, and uniform items displayed—all serving as symbols to remember a fallen family member or comrade.

Four of the seven who carried the original cross up the hill were subsequently killed in action, including Lance Cpl. Zurheide, Major Douglas Zembiec, Major Ray Mendoza, and Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin.

The last time Elena saw her husband alive was when they said good bye at the foot of the hill bearing the cross.

This year, the new 13 foot wooden cross was carried up the steep hill on November 10, the Marine Corps birthday. Elena and her son Robbie were a part of the group that took the cross to the top of the hill. The next day, Veteran’s Day, the Cross was mounted at the exact location of the original cross. The memorial cross is dedicated to the memory of the four Marines who carried the original cross up the hill and were later killed in action.

Religious - Marine Cross at Mt. Horno 2011
Second memorial cross being carried to the hilltop on the
Marine Corps Birthday, November 10, 2011

The Thomas More Law Center was instrumental in defending the Mount Soledad Cross from the original attack by an ACLU attorney. It has filed friend of the court briefs in the second ACLU attack on the cross now defended by the U.S. Department of Justice and the attack on the Mojave Desert Cross. The Law Center also successfully defended LtCol Jeffrey Chessani, USMC, in the politically motivated court martial over action taken by Marines in his battalion in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005.

Richard Thompson, the President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, commented, “Our letter to Colonel Marano, focused on the devastating impact removing this cross will have on those who have sacrificed so much for this country. Since the beginning of America, crosses have been used to memorialize our fallen warriors. There may be a few atheists in foxholes as represented by the organization demanding removal of this cross, but there is no substitute for the spiritual in war as the famous Marine General John Lejeune wrote in 1929. Removing that spirituality will ultimately harm our fighting ability. Material resources alone will not win wars.

Continued Thompson, “The 2010 Supreme Court decision involving the Mojave desert cross may signal that the court will be more tolerant of religious symbols on public land. Justice Kennedy recognized that the cross is not merely an affirmation of Christian beliefs but a symbol often used to honor and respect heroism.

Religious - Memorial Cross Overlooking Camp Horno

Camp Pendleton memorial cross surrounded
by items of remembrance

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