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VA initiates process to remove headstones with Nazi symbols

VA initiates process to remove headstones with Nazi symbols
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The Veterans Affairs Department will initiate a process to remove three tomb stones from cemeteries operated by the agency that carry swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

The gravestones in question mark the unclaimed remains of German prisoners of war in two army cemeteries that the VA administers. 

“Americans must always remember the horror of the Nazi regime and why so many Americans sacrificed so much to free the world from its reign of terror,” VA Secretary Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieOvernight Defense: Pentagon faces leadership shakeup after Trump fires Esper | Trump approves UAE weapons package | Senate panel proposes 6B spending bill Hillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach MORE said in a statement released Monday.

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“It is understandably upsetting to our Veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation. That’s why VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones,” he added.

One of the tombstones in Salt Lake City's Fort Douglas Post Cemetery features a swastika and a Knight’s Cross with oak leaves.

The other two, located at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, include an iron cross and swastika, as well as an engraving referencing Adolf Hitler that reads, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”

The VA said it would seek to preserve the grave stones in its National Cemetery Administration History Collection, and install interpretive signs "to provide historical context about how non-U.S. service members from World War I and World War II were interred and buried on American soil."

The decision to initiate the legal process of removing the headstones came just days after prominent Democrats pressed Wilkie on the issue at an appropriations hearing.

At the time, Wilkie stopped short of agreeing to replace them, citing concern that doing so would whitewash the past.

"The last thing we need to do is not remind Americans of the horrors of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Nazi cult," he said at the hearing.

House Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats push Biden to pick Haaland as next Interior secretary | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations MORE (D-Fla.) welcomed the VA statement and said she would "eagerly monitor" progress on the proceedings.
 
"VA’s initial decision to leave the gravestones in place was callous and irresponsible, but today’s decision is an honorable move in the right direction," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

"I will eagerly monitor how VA moves forward with this process, including how they choose to provide historical context to enemy prisoners of war buried in U.S. Veterans cemeteries," she added.
 
-- Updated at 1:14 p.m.