VA cemetary

Two undated photos of POW gravestones vandalized with swastikas at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. 

U.S. House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), sent a bipartisan request to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday urging that all gravestones inscribed with swastikas and messages honoring Hitler be removed from military cemeteries.

U.S. House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and the subcommittee’s ranking member, John Carter (R-Texas), also signed the letter calling for the removal of the vandalism, which was found in VA cemeteries in Texas and Utah on graves of German prisoners of war.

“Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life,” wrote the members of Congress.

“It is also a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest,” they continued. “Families who visit their loved ones, who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values.”

The bipartisan group also wrote that the VA’s “decision to leave the swastikas and messages honoring Hitler in place and ignore the calls to take them down is callous, irresponsible and unacceptable,” though it acknowledged “that these cemeteries were not under the jurisdiction of VA at the time these headstones were installed.”

However, the bipartisan group stated, “now that they are under VA’s jurisdiction, there is no excuse for VA to continue to maintain these headstones, instead of replacing them.”

They said that the “VA has claimed in its public response on this issue that they cannot replace these headstones because the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to protect historic resources.”

“That law protects resources of extreme historical significance for, as the statutory text states, ‘the inspiration and benefit of present and future generations.’ We should certainly all agree that honoring Hitler on the headstones of German soldiers who took up arms against the United States is not in line with the law’s intent.”

The members of Congress said that the “VA has a responsibility to our service members and veterans to treat their burials and final resting places with the utmost respect.”

It also noted that the agency has acknowledged this responsibility in its own policy on headstone markers, saying “VA will not inscribe any emblem on a headstone or marker that would have an adverse impact on the dignity and solemnity of cemeteries honoring those who served the Nation.”

The bipartisan group remarked that “there is no question that the swastikas and inscriptions on these specific headstones have an adverse impact in honoring those who served.”

“While leaving gravestones in VA National Cemeteries unaltered may have been a long-standing bureaucratic policy, that is no excuse for allowing it to continue. We ask that you eliminate this antiquated policy and begin the process for removing these gravestones or having them altered immediately. It is never too late to do the right thing.”

In a statement to JNS, the VA said it “is aware of three headstones … that include these symbols.”

The VA went on to state, “The cemeteries were under the control of the Army when these interments occurred in the 1940s. The Fort Sam Houston and Fort Douglas cemeteries were subsequently transferred to VA’s National Cemetery Administration, in 1973 and 2019, respectively. Headstones of enemy prisoners of war stand only in cemeteries where enemy POWs are buried, and we have no plans to change the posture of previous administrations by disturbing those gravesites.” JN

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