Some unknown soldiers get crosses on graves

For more than two years, FFRF has been objecting to the use of religious iconography to mark the graves of the unknown soldiers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also called the Punchbowl.

“Why are some Unknowns buried in the Punchbowl marked with the Latin cross while others are not?” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked in the original letter to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Twenty-eight months later, after about a dozen correspondences between FFRF and the military, Debra S. Wada, assistant secretary of the Army, finally responded. The Department of the Army is trying to identify unknown soldiers from WWII, and a project is under way to disinter and identify those unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma and other unknowns.

“In those cases where Unknowns are identified, the DoD will work with the DoVA, which has provided the government-furnished headstones and markers since 1973, to ensure the gravesites at NMCP or elsewhere are appropriately marked,” Wada wrote.

“It’s an interesting program and we applaud the military’s attempt to identify these heroes,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who’s been working the case for a long time.

While “The Department of the Army will not initiate any action to replace the headstones of Unknowns marked with the Latin cross in the NMCP at this time,” this is progress of a kind.

Wada also claimed, “It is apparent that, over time, the Latin cross has developed a secular meaning as a commemorative symbol of sacrifice in wartime.”

“Wada is absolutely wrong about the secular meaning of a Christian cross,” said Seidel, “and no court would agree with her, but we are happy that some action is being take to identify and more appropriately memorialize those who sacrificed all.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation