U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the Department of Veterans Affairs made the right call after ordering the removal of three prisoner of war headstones featuring Nazi paraphernalia.
Two of those headstones are located at a VA cemetery in Texas. The third is located in Utah. The VA has not yet released a timeline for when they will be removed.
The VA originally resisted calls to remove the headstones. Wasserman Schultz said she’s glad the agency decided to reverse that decision Monday.
“I am grateful that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie initiated the process required to replace German POW headstones that bear offensive swastika symbols and Nazi inscriptions honoring Hitler in our VA National Cemeteries,” Wasserman Schultz said late Monday night.
“The families of soldiers who fought against intolerance and hatred must never be forced to confront glorification of those very ideologies when visiting their loved ones. VA’s initial decision to leave the gravestones in place was callous and irresponsible, but today’s decision is an honorable move in the right direction.”
The controversial headstones contain the remains of German troops and were located alongside American graves at a pair of separate VA cemeteries.
Wilkie testified on the issue in front of the House last week. During those remarks, he argued federal law limits his ability to remove the historical remnants. Wilkie also expressed hesitation in taking down the Nazi headstones, citing their historical relevance.
“I happen to think that making sure when people visit our cemeteries they are informed of that horror is an important thing to do,” Wilkie argued.
Late Monday, Wilkie changed his tune.
“Americans must always remember the horror of the Nazi regime and why so many Americans sacrificed so much to free the world from its reign of terror,” Wilkie said.
“It is understandably upsetting to our Veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation. That’s why VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones.”
After Wilkie originally waffled in the issue, Wasserman Schultz added her name to a bipartisan letter condemning the agency’s lack of urgency. Now, she says she will keep an eye on the process to make sure the VA follows through on the new position.
“I will eagerly monitor how VA moves forward with this process, including how they choose to provide historical context to enemy prisoners of war buried in U.S. Veterans cemeteries,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“We must make sure we don’t erect totems to intolerance, allowing their history to be studied without causing pain for those most affected by it.”