Washington • Members of Congress on Monday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove or alter gravestones at two national cemeteries — including one in Utah — that feature swastikas or honor Adolf Hitler.
A gravestone at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City for a German prisoner from World War II, Paul Eilert, includes a Knights Cross with oak leaves and a small swastika, a marker that has brought a rebuke by members of Congress from both parties.
Two other gravestones at a VA-run cemetery in Texas also have swastikas, and one includes the inscription, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”
“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,” four members of the House Appropriations Committee wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Memorial Day, a national holiday commemorating American service members who died fighting for their country.
“It is also a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest,” the letter continues. “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 letter is signed by Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, as well as Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and John Carter of Texas, the top Democrat and Republican on a subcommittee overseeing veterans’ affairs issues.
Eilert’s gravestone is located in the southeastern corner of the military cemetery near the University of Utah. The German POW reportedly died at a Utah hospital in 1944, before the end of WWII.
National Cemetery Administration spokesman Les’ Melnyk said in a statement to the Military Times that the “VA will continue to preserve these headstones, like every past administration has.”
“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,” Melnyk said.
Lowey and the other members of Congress who penned the letter to the department, which manages military cemeteries, pushed back on the assertion the preservation act protects the swastikas or pro-Hitler language.
“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 wrote.
“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,” the members added. “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.”