Veterans are outraged after learning that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ordered the removal of memorials to fallen soldiers merely because they featured a “realistic replica” of a firearm. On Wednesday, Congressman Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) told PJ Media at least one memorial has been returned and he is drafting legislation to prevent such removals in the future.
“The veterans organizations are madder than hell,” Elton Boyer, president of the 555th Honors Detachment, told PJ Media. “Am I mad? I certainly am. It’s very frustrating.”
The 555th Honors Detachment was started in 2000 to help organize funeral services at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman. The cemetery was ordered to take down the Battlefield Cross about six weeks ago, but put it back up on Tuesday.
Boyer, who also serves on the advisory committee for the cemetery, told PJ Media about plans to melt down over 100,000 empty cartridges from blanks fired at military funerals to craft a permanent Battlefield Cross. That project is still on hold.
“There’s quite a history and it has a real meaning,” Boyer added.
“The Battlefield Cross is the truest representation of a fallen hero with his boots, inverted rifle, helmet and Dog Tags,” Congressman Renacci, who is running for governor in Ohio’s 2018 election, told PJ Media. “War is not butterflies and rainbows, and it needs to be presented as a tribute to their sacrifice in the way in which the Veterans see fit.”
This particular form of monument dates back to the Civil War, as a means of identifying the bodies on the battleground before they would be relocated to cemeteries. The boots, rifle, helmet, and dog tags were personal items from the soldier buried beneath them, and served as a reminder of who he was.
Today, the Battlefield Cross is a means of showing respect for the dead among the members of the troop still living. It serves less as a means of identification and more as a method of paying tribute to those who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefield.
Bryan Bowman, director of veterans outreach for Congressman Renacci, told PJ Media that Diana Ohman, executive director of the National Cemetery Administration’s Midwest District, ordered the removal of Battlefield Crosses about six weeks ago. He forwarded an email confirming that the crosses were removed from at least three cemeteries: Ohio Western, Ft. Custer, and Abraham Lincoln.
Another Battlefield Cross application was rejected at Great Lakes National Cemetery. According to Bowman, there was no complaint about Battlefield Crosses, and the orders to remove them started with the application at Great Lakes National Cemetery.
The Ohio Western cemetery administrator told Fox 8 that the removal came as a result of “guidance” from the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Battlefield Cross can be displayed during a veteran’s funeral, but must be removed after the ceremony.
According to Bowman, this “guidance” consisted of an overly broad interpretation of a ban on all “three-dimensional” “realistic replicas” of ordnance — a term technically meaning “mounted guns or artillery,” which also means ammunition, and weapons more broadly.
“That’s 100 percent unacceptable,” Bowman told PJ Media. “I don’t know how anyone would consider a brass or concrete rifle a realistic replica, it absolutely defies logic.”
The veterans outreach staffer explained that “ordnance isn’t really rifles — it’s munitions. They don’t want anything that looks like a bomb. Their interpretation of this is kind of crazy.”
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, they don’t know anything about our country, our history, they don’t even know why they have the right to complain about it,” Vietnam veteran Bill Overton told Fox 8. “The reason why they have the right is these guys right here. That’s why they have the right to do it.”
Overton explained what the Battlefield Cross means to him. “It’s a great honor,” the veteran said. “That’s your comrades recognizing you, what you did, who you are. You’re a brother, you’re a member of this military.”
Renacci’s office is currently drafting legislation to prevent the removals of Battlefield Crosses in the future. Bowman expressed hope that the forthcoming legislation will ensure that the proposed Battlefield Cross made from former rifle shells will go up without a hitch at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.
While it is heartening to see the Battlefield Crosses go back up, Americans should be concerned that the VA could remove these “truest tributes” with the stroke of a pen. The Battlefield Cross has an important history, and an inspiring message of honor and sacrifice. Renacci deserves praise for leading the charge to defend it.