According to a Fox News story which aired yesterday (click here to see the Fox News video), the Commandant of Camp Pendleton, California, Colonel Nicholas F. Marano, USMC, is expected to rule shortly on whether two memorial crosses erected atop Mount Horno can remain in place.
The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are threatening to sue if COL Marano decides the crosses can stay. They contend the crosses represent an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.
To Elena Zurheide, represented by the Thomas More Law Center, however, the 13 foot wooden memorial cross sitting atop the steep hill has nothing to do with establishing a religion. It has everything to do with the memory of her husband, Lance Corporal Robert P. Zurheide, who was killed in 2004 during the bloody fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. Their son Robert was born a month after his death.
The original memorial cross was carried to the top of a steep hill in 2003 by Lance Corporal Zurheide and six other Marines belonging to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines as a memorial to those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On December 9, 2011, TMLC wrote a letter to Colonel Marano on behalf of its client Elena Zurheide and her seven year old son, urging him to defend the memorial cross erected on Veterans Day, 2011. It was a replacement for the original cross erected in 2003 and later destroyed by a brush fire in 2007.
Original memorial cross being carried in 2003, later
destroyed by a brush fire in 2007
The Mt. Horno cross quickly became a memorial marker as Marines and families of fallen Marines made the difficult hike up the hill to place items of remembrance at the foot of the cross. They have displayed sand from Iwo Jima to remember those Marines who have gone before us, and sand from Fallujah, to remember those Marines who more recently made the ultimate sacrifice. It is quite common to find rocks with messages, coins, dog tags, and uniform items displayed—all serving as symbols to remember a fallen family member or comrade.
Four of the seven who carried the original cross up the hill were subsequently killed in action, including Lance Cpl. Zurheide, Major Douglas Zembiec, Major Ray Mendoza, and Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin.
The last time Elena saw her husband alive was when they said goodbye at the foot of the hill bearing the cross.
This past year, on the Marine Corps birthday (November 10, 2011), the new 13 foot wooden cross was carried up the 3000 ft. climb to the top of the hill. Elena and her son Robbie were a part of the group that took the cross to the top of the hill. The next day, Veteran’s Day, the Cross was mounted at the exact location of the original cross. The memorial cross is dedicated to the memory of the four Marines who carried the original cross up the hill and were later killed in action.
Lance Corporal Zurheide's son Robbie
Richard Thompson, the President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, commented, “Our letter to Colonel Marano focused on the devastating impact removing this cross will have on those who have sacrificed so much for this country. Since the beginning of America, crosses have been used to memorialize our fallen warriors.”
Continued Thompson, “The 2010 Supreme Court decision involving the Mojave Desert cross may signal that the court will be more tolerant of religious symbols on public land. Justice Kennedy recognized that the cross is not merely an affirmation of Christian beliefs but a symbol often used to honor and respect heroism.”
Second memorial cross being carried to the hilltop on the Marine Corps Birthday, November 10, 2011
Camp Pendleton memorial cross surrounded
by items of remembrance