“Hey, we just want to honor our Veterans and the extra-ordinary sacrifices they have made for this country. Our mission is that simple. We don’t view the cross as a religious symbol. We see it as an international symbol of sacrifice.” – Bruce S. Bailey, President & CEO, Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, Inc.
So began my meeting with U.S. Air Force Colonel, Bruce S. Bailey (Ret) as I was gathering my thoughts for this blog post. I knew I was going to like this guy when he told me that he once owned a 1949 Harley-Davidson Sidecar rig while in college in Ohio. He purchased it used in 1965 for $350. My how times have changed…that Sidecar rig today would be closer to $30,000.
Meeting the Colonel and his Media Pro, Bob Phillips, a Navy Veteran, was a highlight for me. I feel a deep spiritual connection to those who have enabled me to chase freedom by riding the byways and highways of this great country. Nowhere is that connection deeper than the respect I have for the American Soldier. That selfless warrior who goes willingly into the hellish chaos of war to protect my hopes and dreams and the hopes and dreams of every freedom-seeking citizen. It’s an amazing commitment to the American way that only a soldier can fully comprehend and that we mere civilians know only as…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Mt. Soledad – An important part of America’s Finest City and of this country’s military history.
I have had the good fortune of riding up to Mt. Soledad’s beautiful and peaceful Memorial Park setting many times over the years. Like many of America’s Memorials to Veterans, it’s an amazing personal experience to walk around this memorial site looking at all the faces on the honor walls. For me, it basically stops me in my tracks as I ponder the histories, the patriotism and the sacrifice of these warriors. One can’t help but shed a tear of appreciation…every time one visits the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. …”All gave some, some gave all…”
Mt. Soledad Memorial Park first came to life way back in 1914…100 years ago. The 29-foot cross was added to the Memorial in April 1954 as a symbol of respect and honor for those who proudly served our country during the Korean War (1950-1953). Yes, a cross has been on this mountain top for 60 years.
There are over 3,500 memorial plaques on Mt. Soledad.
This monument is truly unique. No other National Veterans Memorial in the U.S. provides so much information about those featured on the honor walls. Each plaque shows a photo of a military hero and provides summary information about each one of them.
The monument accommodates both deceased and the living…yes, some of the plaques honor military heroes still serving our country today and, these warriors come from all corners of this great land.
Another distinctive characteristic of the Mt. Soledad monument is that it covers all wars going back to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) up to the current 2014 wars around the world. This monument offers an amazing catalog of military history. I highly recommend you ride up to this mountain top at least once in your life. It’s a bucket list item for sure.
The sole mission of the monument is to honor all U.S. Veterans who have served our country. It acts as both a unique registry of America’s military heritage and to educate the public on the contributions of military personnel throughout our nation’s history. It’s truly a beautiful and fitting tribute to our Veterans.
Granite plaques are engraved with the names and photos of war veterans and each plaque tells the story of that military hero’s service.
Click here to see how you too can purchase a granite plaque for one of America’s military heroes.
The role of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association
Established in 1952, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association has been honoring veterans for the past 62 years. The organization was founded by Post #275 of The American Legion in La Jolla, California and operates as a Non-Profit (501(c)(3) corporation.
The 500+ member Association maintains the Memorial and acts as the champion caretaker, including providing enthusiastic volunteers to raise and lower the American flag each and every day. They actively raise their own funds through sales of plaques, membership dues and private donations. They receive no money from government.
From all I have seen over the years, members of the Association have done a superb job both maintaining the site and enhancing the look and feel of this memorial. They added new walls in early 2013 for example, that will accommodate another 2,500 memorial plaques over the next decade.
The Association organizes two big events per year. The Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies attract huge crowds that come to show their respect and to honor our Veterans. The Veterans Day ceremonies are held on the Saturday before Veterans Day in order that members can participate in parades and other ceremonies on Veterans Day each year. In addition, Military Honor Ceremonies of one type or another are held almost weekly throughout the year to honor veterans, many whose plaques are installed on the Veterans Memorial Walls.
Volunteers guide an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 visitors annually around the site. Many of these volunteers know the Memorial and its Honor Plaques so well that they can explain the background stories of hundreds of the veterans who served our country.
Click here or on the banner below for a video of the 2013 Veterans Day Celebrations at Mt. Soledad.
Click here for another great example of the good work done by the Association on behalf of our warriors. re: KPBS/Patch.com article. The Association honored two former Navy Seals killed in the September 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack. Former Navy Seals, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both died while bravely defending fellow Americans during the Benghazi terrorist attack. These military heroes are both proudly featured on the walls of the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial…making sure that they won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Both were based out of San Diego.
The Legal Narrative Around The Cross
While the price of Harley-Davidson motorcycle Sidecar rigs has changed big time over the past 25 years, what hasn’t changed much is the legal saga around the cross which has stood on top of Mt. Soledad signaling respect and honor to our military heroes.
The litigation dispute over the Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross has gone on for over two and a half decades. Yes, 25 years and it is still going on as I write this blog post.
Champions of the cross just want to honor American veterans and their sacrifices. Opponents of the cross say the memorial site violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and as such, should be free of religious icons like the cross.
The original suit dates back to May 1989 when U.S. Army combat veteran and atheist, Philip Paulson, sued in federal court, saying the Mt. Soledad cross was on city property and therefore, violated the U.S. and California Constitutions.
Two years later, federal judge Gordon Thompson, Jr. ruled that the cross violated the state’s Constitution guarantee of separation between church and state and issued a permanent injunction forbidding its presence on public land.
No need to bore you all with the legal maneuvers that followed over the next 23 years other than to say that we may be coming to a much welcomed end to all the back and forth legal wranglings. Federal Judge Larry Burns ruled in December 2013 that the Mt. Soledad cross was unconstitutional but “stayed” the order giving the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association a small window for appeal. His ruling was immediately appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We all await the Appeal Court’s decision.
Also in motion is a recent January 2014 action by House of Representative member, Duncan Hunter. His legislation, should it be passed in both the House and Senate, would keep the cross in place and transfer control of the cross and Memorial site to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association.
Bottom line, supporters of the cross, who see it as a symbol of respect and honor to our Veterans, would like the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court for a final, final resolution. In the meantime, our warriors, our soldiers, our protectors, our heroes of freedom are likely rolling in their graves wondering why we have put them through this war of litigation after all they have done for their country.
March 2014: The legal saga rolls on down the road …
Perhaps the following poem, recited from memory by 90 year old WWII hero, Bill Galbraith*, at a recent Trustee Meeting of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, says it best.
“…We have only died in vain if you believe so;
You must decide the wisdom of your choice.
By the world which you shall build upon our headstones
And, the everlasting truths, which have your voice.
Though dead, we are not heroes yet, nor can be
Till the living, by their lives, which are the tools,
Carve us the epitaphs of wise men
And give us not the epitaphs of fools…”
— Poet David J. Phillips, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)…
Let us all dream of the day soon friends when the cross on Mt. Soledad can forever stand tall and shine exhibiting honor and respect for our military veterans. Ride Safe Out There.
*Special Note: Bill Galbraith (93), mentioned in this post, was a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He was one of the parachute jumpers in the dark night skies over Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944 during WWII. Bill received a huge applause from the trustees in attendance for reciting the David J. Phillips poem. Max Gurney (91), also in attendance at the Trustee Meeting when Bill recited the Phillips poem, was a U.S. Combat Veteran during WWII involved in five ground campaigns. Max was one of the champion organizers behind the 50th Anniversary Return to Normandy D-Day Celebration paratrooper jumps. An event in which his friend, Bill Galbraith, 77 years old at the time, again parachuted over Normandy. Both of these WWII Veterans are executive members of San Diego-based Return to Normandy Association and both were recently honored at the monthly Mt.Soledad Memorial Association Trustee Meeting in La Jolla, California for their bravery and valor. I want to personally give thanks to both Max and Bill for their service to our country.
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