This bill — the Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act — would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA Secretary) to permit the display of Fallen Soldier Displays, also known as battlefield crosses, in national cemeteries. A “Fallen Soldier Display” would be defined a memorial monument in honor of fallen members of the Armed Forces that may include a replica of an inverted rifle, boots, helmets, and identification tags.
What is House Bill H.R. 1424?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 1424
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) introduced this bill to codify protections for battlefield cross memorials in national cemeteries. Testifying in support of this bill during its House Committee on Veterans Affairs markup in late October 2019, Rep. Gonzalez said:
“One of the greatest champions for this cause was Elton Boyer, President of the 555th Honors Detachment in my district. He passed away [last] weekend, but it was Elton’s mission to erect a Battlefield Cross at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville, Ohio using the spent brass from military funerals. My bill protects his work, clarifying that no administrative policy change can allow the removal of this memorial. H.R. 1424, the Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act, bars the Department of Veterans Affairs from removing battlefield cross memorials from our national cemeteries, ensuring these monuments remain standing as tributes to our fallen soldiers. Battlefield crosses, depicted as a soldier’s boots, helmet, dog tag and inverted rifle, have stood in cemeteries across the nation since at least the Civil War to honor and remember the soldiers who fell fighting on the battlefront. The bill, previously introduced by Former Congressman Jim Renacci last [C]ongress, was cosponsored by every member of the Ohio delegation upon introduction, a point of pride for Ohio’s veteran and military community.”
Rep. Gonzalez says this bill “came directly from members of the community who noticed something that didn’t make sense to them: battlefield crosses being removed.” He adds that it isn’t a religious symbol in this context: “I don’t think of it as religious symbol per se. I think of this as an honor and tribute to men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, no matter what religious affiliation you have.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), sponsor of this bill’s Senate companion, adds:
“The battlefield cross is an important symbol of the service and sacrifice of thousands of fallen American heroes both in combat zones and here at home. While we take time this Memorial Day to honor these individuals, these memorials stand as a constant reminder of the cost of our freedom. I am pleased the Ohio delegation came together on a bipartisan basis to help ensure that veterans buried in Ohio and around the country can be properly honored with the battlefield cross.”
Combat veteran Michael Kuhn says battlefield crosses honor the dead and help the living:
“The battlefield cross encapsulates so many of the most important things to a combat vet: his rifle, his boots, his tags and, most of all, his fallen comrades. It’s extremely important for us to have those things wrapped up in one memorial for us to kneel to, grieve with, and talk to our brothers in arms that have died the ultimate death in laying down their life for us and their country. As a combat vet, you relate to very little outside of that world and always feel like an outsider. Whenever you see that combat cross it brings a somber, quiet feeling of peace for that moment that you have that direct line to your fallen brothers.”
This legislation passed the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 28 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 22 Republicans and six Democrats. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), has one Democratic Senate cosponsor, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The entire Ohio Congressional delegation supports this legislation.
Of Note: The battlefield cross consists of an inverted rifle, topped by a helmet and identification tag, and a pair of boots. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History says the cross may have originated in the Civil War, when it was used to identify fallen soldiers’ locations for burial.
Since the Civil War, the battlefield cross has been used in other conflicts. During the First and Second World Wars, the battlefield cross came to serve both a practical (marking where bodies lay so the Graves Registration Service personnel could remove them for burial) and memorial purpose. During the Korean War, changes were made to the process of handling the dead, so that soldiers were removed to staging sites to be readied for shipment to Japan and then, ultimately, home. This probably led to the battlefield cross taking more significance as a way to provide closure for a fallen soldier’s comrades.
Beginning with the Gulf War in 1991, and continuing through Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the current version of the battlefield cross (rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags) has become a symbol of loss, mourning, and closure for the living.
The issue of battlefield crosses’ display in national cemeteries first arose in 2017, when a battlefield cross was removed from the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery (OWRNC) in Rittman, Ohio (around the same time, several battlefield crosses were removed from other national cemeteries in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan). After criticism by local veterans and an intervention by elected officials, the decision was reversed and the marker returned to its original location. The incident was explained as “a regrettable misinterpretation of policy” regarding the depiction of weaponry on new monuments; this was backed by the VA’s determination, which came to the same conclusion.
Rep. Gonzalez explains, “A staff member removed it because it depicts a weapon. The rule was then reversed, and they brought it back. The reason why that occurred is because the legislation was unclear.” This ambiguity led Rep. Gonzalez to introduce this bill. He says, “I thought, ‘Let’s take all the ambiguity out of it so it’s very clear.’”
- Sponsoring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) Press Release
- Sponsoring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) Radio Interview
- Sponsoring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) Testimony
- Senate Sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) Press Release
- CBO Cost Estimate
- Inde Online
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History - The Battlefield Cross (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / tentemerson)
Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act
To amend title 38, United States Code, to ensure the Secretary of Veterans Affairs permits the display of Fallen Soldier Displays in national cemeteries.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate Passed on a voice vote
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
- senate Committees
- The house Passed on a voice vote
Disability Assistance and Memorial AffairsCommittee on Veterans' AffairsIntroducedFebruary 28th, 2019
- house Committees