Nazi Headstones.

There are few people out there that hate Nazis more than we do. Our staff here has relatives they never got to meet because they were killed by the Nazis during World War II. We imagine the same hatred exists for Jews and people in the area of the Eastern Front where both Nazis and Soviet troops treated civilians in horrifying manners.

It is therefore understandable the controversy over three headstones here in the United States for men who were Nazis and bear Nazi symbols.

On Memorial Day, a holiday meant to mourn those in the U.S. military who have died while serving their country, a group of lawmakers took the opportunity to call out what they see as a stain on two veterans cemeteries in Texas and Utah.

At two graves in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio and one grave in Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City lie German prisoners of war from WWII. These graves, which have existed for decades, are marked with Nazi symbols, and in recent weeks the calls have grown louder to have them removed.

“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 group of House Representatives in a letter Veteran Affairs secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday.

All three graves feature swastikas, while in Texas the headstones also include a reference to Hitler. “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland,” they read.

Lawmakers (because they have nothing better to do at this time) sent a letter to the VA demanding the markers be removed.

Les’ Melnyk, the head of public affairs and outreach for the V.A. National Cemetery Administration released a statement saying:

V.A. is aware of three headstones – two at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery and one at Ft. Douglas Post Cemetery – that include these symbols.

All of the headstones date back to the 1940s, when the Army approved the inscriptions in question. Both Ft. Sam Houston and Ft. Douglas cemeteries were subsequently transferred to the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, in 1973 and 2019, respectively.

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. For this reason, VA will continue to preserve these headstones, like every past administration has.

In short, the VA is claiming and backed by law, that the markers are historical relics and must be preserved.

To us, that means that if the lawmakers want the VA to remove the markers, change the law.

However, there is a threat of a lawsuit being made by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

An advocacy group is preparing to go to court unless the Department of Veterans Affairs swiftly removes Nazi symbols and references to Adolf Hitler from the headstones of three German prisoners of war from World War II buried in national veterans cemeteries.

The swastikas and inscriptions, which state in German, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland,” should not be allowed in VA cemeteries where American veterans are interred, said Mikey Weinstein, chairman of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The symbols and the inscriptions “must be eradicated and eradicated now,” he said Tuesday. “This is completely and totally wrong.”

Weinstein, a former Air Force captain and graduate of the Air Force Academy, said MRFF is prepared to go to federal court if the VA refuses to remove the headstones. He also called on Congress to take action.

The name of Military Religious Freedom Foundation is 1984 Orwellian doublespeak. Far from being for religious freedom in the military, the group fights and sues to prevent any religious connection between the military and religions. They are the epitome of a group that claims to be for the First Amendment, and yet does everything they can to limit speech and freedom of religion.

Still, we understand the outrage over the headstones.

However looking only at the headstones lacks a little bit of context and that lack of context provides an educational opportunity.

Most people don’t realize or know that there were POW camps here on continental US soil.

By VE Day [Victory in Europe Day,] there were more than 370,000 POWs from the Third Reich being held on American soil. In addition to German facilities, there were camps in the U.S. to house more than 51,000 Italian POWs and 5,000 Japanese prisoners. More POWs were detained by American forces in Europe, the Far East and elsewhere.

The U.S. camps were run in strict accordance with the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention. All prisoners were entitled to housing, food, medical care and clothing appropriate to the climate in which they were being held. Each enlisted prisoner was granted space roughly equivalent to that enjoyed by a U.S. Army conscript – while officers enjoyed larger quarters. Many of the captured German generals and admirals, there were 43 in all held in the U.S., were housed in private bungalows in a facility at Camp Clinton, Mississippi.

While the Nazis and Japanese were treating prisoners of war (to say nothing of civilians) in a manner that the term “barbaric” doesn’t even begin to describe, the people of the US treated POW’s well.

Which brings us to the point that the people who made the decision to have these headstones made that decision while the war was going on. The men buried here were POW’s while other Nazi’s across the ocean were trying to kill our fathers, brothers and friends.

Our initial opinion is that if the people of the time – the people that were actually “under the gun” – were okay with the headstones, we should say “we disapprove of their decision,” but not wipe the history off of the face of the earth. In doing so, we as a people and as a nation become dumber and more ignorant of history. We tend to view history not through the lens of the people at the time, but through our own morals and viewpoints. Instead of trying to understand the times and the decisions, we automatically assume that our world view is better and more just.

That isn’t the case.

At one point in time, we might have agreed with the removal of the headstones. Yet as we said, if you remove the markers, you lose a chance of educating the masses and that is not a desired outcome. We can teach how America and Americans were better than those who sought to enslave the world. We can teach that at a time when the country and indeed the world needed men and women to defend the rights and freedoms of people, Americans answered the call. We can teach the evils of the beliefs of the Nazis and how even normally good people can be corrupted. Those to us are important lessons. Instead, today, we gloss over history with simple statements such as “this group bad. This group good.”

History is seldom black and white. It is nuanced and has thousands of shades of grey. That is what we should be taking from those three headstones.

One of the things that changed our minds about this were images and video clips from Civil War reunions in the early 1900’s.

Men who had peered down the barrel of a rifle, fired cannons at opposing forces, charged into the fray on horse, and tried to kill each other, embraced each other years later. “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb” met in peace, sharing a bond that only they could understand and we cannot begin to fathom today.

We have moved on from WWII in a similar manner. We are allies with the Japanese and Germany. There are products from both countries in our homes, just as there are products from the US in the homes of the Japanese and Germans.

We should never forget the horrors of WWII and the ideologies that caused it. We should never forget the horrors in the treatment of POW’s and civilians at the hands of the Axis powers. We believe that removing the headstones hides history. It sweeps it under the rug instead of bringing it to light.

We will never support darkness over light.

2 Responses to “Nazi Headstones.”

  1. Bob Chadwick says:

    I wrote this some time ago… It seems to parallel this morning’s comment, and also echoes a thought against some of the monument breakers and revisionists that are trying to make history “politically correct: I am getting a bit tired of their whining. I agree with the VA. Leave these soldiers to rest in peace.


    It’s Memorial Day morning, a time for a few reflections on the day and events around it. Here is one of mine, for what it’s worth.

    In 1993 I was sent to Germany by Harris Corporation (my employer at that time) to work on some equipment one of our customers had deployed there. I was fortunate enough to be sent to a small town on the French border, in early summer. It was a very pleasant place, full of friendly people, very much like my hometown in New Hampshire. The countryside was physically much like home, too. There was still a lot of daylight left after dinner, and the TV was all in German (I am not a German speaker beyond “Guten Tag”, “Bitte” and “Dankeschoen”), so I fell into the habit of walking and driving around the countryside after dinner. There were many small villages nestled in the hills.

    I noticed that each village had a small cemetery and most had small war memorials. Once again, this was very much like what I remembered from my hometown, and many other towns in the USA that I’d visited. Occasionally I would stop and look inside the cemeteries. Very frequently I would see a grave stone with a legend something like this… Born 5 June 1923, Died 3 Dec 1943, Russia. Or looking at a village war memorial, to see a set of 5 or 6 men’s names, all the same last names, obviously a father and sons, or brothers.

    After taking note of this, I got to thinking. Here I am in a town very much like my hometown, populated by people very much like my relatives. And in the same war that my uncles and many of my parents’ friends were fighting, these men, the same sort of people, young men with plans, hopes and dreams the same as ours, were fighting and dying in the same manner. The only difference was, these guys were on the “other side”.

    There is no difference between these two groups of young men on opposite sides of the war whose names are now on gravestones and war memorials. They all were young men with wives, kids, girlfriends, and mothers. They all had dreams and plans. They were all fighting to further a cause that they were told was just and fair and worth their lives. The correctness of what they were told is subject for more debate and emotion. I will not get into that here; a private soldier in anyone’s army has a limited set of options, but he sure as hell is going to get his blood spilled in support of his nation’s beliefs. Those German lads were fighting and dying ugly deaths in defense of the beliefs of their country in the same manner as our American uncles, fathers and grandfathers were fighting for theirs. It is the world’s good fortune that the Germans lost, but that does not lessen the heartbreaking loss of the lives of young men on both sides.

    That’s my story for this Memorial Day. I will add one further thought, something that has sat in the back of my mind ever since I first had it brought to my attention. Have you ever noticed that the old men that decree that we must fight wars, and who direct action that gets us painted into that corner, and who order our young men to their deaths, are never the ones that have children that are going into harm’s way?

    Bob Chadwick is a retired USAF Senior NCO and Retired Harris engineer. He has been a resident of Palm Bay for the past 34 years.

  2. Percy says:

    Well said Bob and a sincere thanks for your service to our country.