Ahead of Memorial Day, a public debate erupted over three tombstones honoring fallen soldiers, two at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas and one at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah. These three soldiers were German POW’s who died in US custody and their tombstones are marked with the Nazi swastikas as well as an inscription honoring Adolf Hitler. “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland,” it says, right next to an engraved Iron Cross.
Military times reported that in the 1940’s, US Army officials approved these tombstones, which is why Veterans Affairs refuses to change them now, citing its responsibility to honor history.
National Cemetery Administration Spokesman Les Melnyk said that The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 “assigns stewardship responsibilities to federal agencies, including VA and Army, to protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.”
Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz slammed the decision, the Washington Times reported, calling the swastikas "symbols of hatred, racism, intolerance and genocide."
She argued that keeping them there "is offensive to veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life,” especially as relatives of fallen soldiers will visit the graves on Monday and might be shocked and dismayed to view these swastikas during their grief.The Military Religious Freedom Foundation called on Veterans Affairs to replace the headstones, B’nai B’rith International, the American Jewish Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center joined the request.
Another issue might be that with the growth of radical white supremacy groups in the US these three graves will gain cult following among Neo-Nazis, who will find authentic Nazi graves to visit much closer to home than they thought possible.
In Russia, Poland, and Latvia German soldiers who fought and died for the Nazi state were laid to rest in graves marked with a Christan cross, not a swastika, and their helmet.
The issue of what to do with the remains of enemy soldiers is not a simple one. Israel maintains two cemeteries for enemy combatants but, as they serve Hezbollah fighters and terror group members, the graves have no tombstones but only numbers as Israel believes one day they will be returned to their countries for a final burial. Unlike other official cemeteries the IDF maintains, no gardening work is done at these two sites.