Another debate over a cross on public land in San Diego County came to a peaceful end Wednesday with the rededication of a memorial cross that stood in the middle of the desert.
A cross surrounded by only miles of sand and rocks has stood for more than five decades in Ocotillo Wells as a tribute to Jim Robison, a hometown hero who died in the Vietnam War.
“Last I seen him it was Christmas Day, 1965,” Robison’s nephew Tom Lemmon said. “I was 6 years old.
The memorial cross was erected by the tight-knit community and served as a special reminder for many besides Lemmon. Lemmon, who is also a well-known labor leader, said only the people of Ocotillo Wells really knew what the cross meant.
But apparently, the fact that the memorial, a religious symbol, stood on public land didn’t sit well with at least one person. A complaint was made and the fate of the cross was in question.
Lemmon said the thought of the cross disappearing was heartbreaking because of the connection to his uncle and the peace it brought his family and community in the years after Robison’s death.
“The comfort that I think it gave my grandparents as they looked upon the hill, I think helped them,” he said.
Lemmon’s fear turned to action, and he started working the phones and eventually teamed with the American Legion to buy the land and make it private.
“I understand the separation of church and state. I’m absolutely supportive of that but there’s a process and clearly the American Legion went through the process,” he said.
Since the cross was erected the names of several other fallen veterans have been scratched into the cross. And like Robison’s, their names will be preserved forever.
In 2015, a 25-year legal battle over the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial ended when the land beneath the cross memorial was transferred from the Department of Defense to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association for $1.4 million.