In a reversal, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced late Monday that it had begun the process removing the headstones of three German POWs from World War II bearing Nazi symbols from two VA national cemeteries.
The VA had initially said it could not remove the headstones under the National Historic Preservation Act, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday acknowledged the unusual circumstances in this case.
"It is understandably upsetting to our veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation," he said in a statement. "That's why VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones."
Two of the German POW headstones are at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas, and one is at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah. Both cemeteries were used to inter the unclaimed remains of enemy troops following World War II.
Most of the headstones of foreign troops list only names and dates of death, but the three in question have a swastika in the center of an iron cross, and an inscription in German stating, "He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland."
The presence of the headstones and demands for their removal were first made by Mikey Weinstein, chairman of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
On May 19, he told Military.com that the symbols and the inscriptions "must be eradicated and eradicated now. This is completely and totally wrong."
In Monday's release VA said a section of the National Historic Preservation Act allowed a process to begin on "how to replace these headstones with historically accurate markers that do not include the Nazi swastika and German text."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.