At a very special Veterans Day celebration, Henry and Wanda Sandoz were finally able to fulfill a promise they made to their old friend, Riley Bembry. After numerous, lengthy court battles they were able to witness the restoration of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross.
More than 200 supporters turned out on Sunday for the three-hour event, which included the long-awaited restoration and re-dedication of the new, replacement cross. The Sandozes, longtime caretakers of the cross, and members of the VFW and the American Legion took turns reflecting on the historic moment – a moment 11 years in the making.
A moment that you made possible.
The VFW first erected the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial cross in 1934 in honor of World War I veterans. Riley Bembry, one of the founders of the memorial and a veteran of World War I, took care of the cross until his death in 1984. Shortly before his passing, he asked his friend, Henry Sandoz, to care for the memorial.
A few years later, the Sandozes were asked to remove the cross because of a complaint about a religious symbol standing on federal land…Henry refused.
In 2001, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to have the cross removed. The federal district court in California and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed, ordering the cross to be taken down and prohibiting Congress from transferring the cross and the land on which it sat to the VFW.
During the court proceedings, the cross was ordered covered…first by a bag and then by a plywood box.
Liberty Institute stepped in, and with your continued prayer and support, we were able to present arguments to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Sandozes and veterans. Citing our briefing 12 times, the high court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and declared the land transfer constitutional.
Just days after that ruling, vandals stole the cross, but the VFW and the Sandozes promised that the memorial would be rebuilt once the case was over. This Veterans Day celebration marked the end of the battle and the closure of the much-anticipated land transfer.
Now, Henry Sandoz can look upon the new seven-foot, steel cross and know that he kept his promise to his good friend.
“Riley would have never believed what has happened over these last years,” said Henry. “We want to thank our Lord and Savior most of all for watching over us and bringing us to this point to honor Him and the veterans.”
We can’t thank our supporters enough for this amazing victory – you made this happen. You helped us secure a great victory for freedom and for our veterans, and once again, defeat the ACLU.
Unfortunately, there are still many fights ahead. There are no limits to what groups like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State will do to erase all signs of faith from public view. Right now, Liberty Institute is fighting for other veterans memorial crosses, including the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross and the Maryland Peace Cross. We won’t back down, but we need you to stand with us, and with our veterans who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.
So, please continue to pray for these sacred memorials and continue to spread the word to your family and friends. Please consider joining this effort through financial support, which is critical in our work of defending and restoring religious liberty, not only for our veterans, but for all Americans.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.