Fort Sam Houston Removes Two Headstones Bearing Swastikas
Officials at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery have removed the headstones of two German prisoners of war. The headstones bore swastikas and other Nazi references.
The Department of Veterans Affairs originally refused to remove the headstones, arguing the VA had a responsibility to "preserve historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.” The VA reversed its opinion in June.
A cemetery in Fort Douglas in Utah also houses a German POW grave with a swastika-engraved headstone. Both cemeteries were under the control of the Army when the interments occurred in the 1940s and were subsequently transferred to VA's National Cemetery Administration.
The headstones belong to World War II-era German POWs who died on U.S. soil. Each shows a swastika. Two have an inscription that says in German: "He died far from his home, for the Führer, people and fatherland."
The VA initially resisted the change, citing precedent and restrictions under the National Historic Preservation Act. In May, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie told the House Armed Services Committee that he didn't want to erase the Holocaust from memory by removing the stones.
"Anti-Semitism is rearing its head all over Europe as we speak, and we've even seen it some places in the country," he said. "The last thing we need to do is not remind Americans of the horrors of Antisemitism and the horrors of the Nazi cult."
The VA also said it would propose keeping the old headstones in the National Cemetery Administration's History Collection.
With reporting by Carson Frame, TPR’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs reporter