SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The process to remove grave headstones of German prisoners of war that display swastikas and markings related to the Nazi regime at cemeteries in Texas and Utah will begin later this month, Veterans Affairs announced.
The VA said Monday in a statement that it has decided to replace the headstones on gravesites of three German POWs. Two are located at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, and one is at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“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 Wilkie said in a statement. “It is understandably upsetting to our veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation.”
Last week, members of the Texas congressional delegation condemned the markings on the headstones in a letter sent to Wilkie. But he had initially expressed that he didn’t plan to disturb the gravesites. In a House panel testimony last week, Wilkie said he would consider the matter but not to expect a swift response, San Antonio Express-News reported.
But that took a turn Monday when the VA announcedit will begin the required legal action to replace headstones that bear symbols and text referencing the Nazis that millions of Americans fought during World War II.
Wilkie didn’t explain the abrupt change in his decision but said he wanted to replace the headstones quickly. It’s not clear how long that would take.
One of the headstones shows that a prisoner was awarded the Iron Cross, a German military decoration for valor. The other two show a modified Iron Cross, which depicts a swastika within a cross. Also carved on two headstones is the inscription, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.”
The VA said it doesn’t have unilateral authority to remove the headstones because they’re in cemeteries protected by the National Historic Preservation Act. Later this month, the agency will follow that law to seek guidance from stakeholders on how to replace the headstones with historically accurate markers that don’t show the Nazi swastika and German text.
The VA plans to preserve the headstones in its National Cemetery Administration History Collection after they’re replaced.