The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial seems like a serene enough place that currently is the site of more than 3,500 plaques dedicated to the memory of American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who have served their country. The plaques represent servicemen whose service dates back to the Revolutionary War, and there have been additional walls recently constructed to create more room to honor veterans. But the memorial is more than just a memorial. It is the site of a historical battle that has nothing to do with protecting foreign lands and everything to do with basic freedoms established in the U. S. Constitution. The site is owned by the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, but it took a number of legal turns to arrive at that point.
Things to Know
When visiting the memorial you will see the black granite plaques that have the serviceman’s name, a photo, and a short summary of their service. It is the only memorial that contains the names of men and women who honorably served their country whether they have passed on or are currently alive today, and where their duty station was at home fighting the Revolutionary War or abroad fighting in the Global War on Terror. Aside from its obvious purpose, the site is also a living history of the conflict between church and state, seeing its very existence being paraded through the United States Federal Court system. The reason is that the site of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial is at the base of a cross that has stirred controversy and legal battles that extended over several decades.
The story begins back in 1913 when a large Christian cross was placed at the top of Mount Soledad, an 822 foot hill located north of the city of San Diego. More than 60 years would pass before the first Constitutional challenge would spring up under the grounds of the separation of church and state. Originally the cross was seen as a “no trespassing” sign to non-Christian people and was said to have an unspoken anti-Semitic message attached to it. The population of La Jolla had been largely Christian, with the prominent cross atop the hill sending a welcome message to many, but not all, peoples. At least that was the perception of those who filed the lawsuit requesting the cross be taken down as a violation of church and state. To its credit, the city of La Jolla decided it was best to sell the land under the cross, which stood 29 feet high, and avoid the constant litigation and expense to the city that would accompany the presence of the cross. At one point the city tried the simplest of approaches and tried to give the land under the cross away to an interested and responsible party. The current version of the cross was constructed in 1954 and it took until 2006 for the Federal government to directly intervene. That year, the Federal government seized the land under the eminent domain clause of the Constitution.
Though the government now owned the land, it was the cross that was at issue, so in 2011 the 9th U. S. District Court of Appeals declared that the very presence of cross itself was unconstitutional, and its ruling was not challenged by the U. S. Supreme Court. As the gears of the legal system plod slowly, it would be another two years before there was an order given for the removal of the cross. But even then, the order was not enforced so as to give the government time to proceed with its appeal of the final decision. Yet another two years would pass, and in July, 2015 it was announced that the Mount Soledad Memorial Association had purchased the land from the Federal government for approximately $1.4 million. Opponents of the existence of the cross continued their legal maneuverings, but finally in 2016 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated in a single page ruling that because the cross was now on privately owned land, the issue of the presence of the cross had finally been resolved. In a rare act of compromise, both sides agreed that this final decision put the issue to rest once and for all.
The cross remains standing today, and along the way there have been some interesting developments related both to the city and to the memorial grounds. The city of La Jolla currently has a significant Jewish population, with the folklore of discrimination firmly in the past. The number of plaques at the memorial has grown as well, as the existence of the memorial has received widespread national attention, with the organizers encouraging Americans to memorialize their veterans by purchasing a plaque in honor of their loved ones. Because Mount Soledad is a unique memorial site, during the course of the year there are more than 40 different ceremonies honoring veterans, with the largest and most active during the week of Memorial Day. For those who are interested, there is a brief tour held of the site and its history.
Of course, there is much more to see but less to do when atop Mount Soledad, and according to reviewers at Trip Advisor you not only get to honor American’s veterans, but you get a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding area. You are warned to be aware that there is limited parking available, and if you are considering hiking up the hill you have to keep your eyes open for cyclists. When you venture out and up to Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial, keep in mind that the history of the memorial is closely connected with the history of the cross. Many people today often forget how the country managed to get where it is today. Mount Soledad is representative of the people and the Constitutional system that fought to preserve our rights, whether we agreed with them or not.