- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Iowa (AP) - A group said a veterans memorial in a Knoxville city park that shows a plywood cutout of a soldier kneeling next to a cross amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the city for the removal of the cross, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1EmTRFh ) reported.

The memorial’s creator, 67-year-old Vietnam War veteran Al Larsen, said he didn’t intend for the cross to have a religious connotation. He said the cross is meant to represent a grave marker, similar to the rows of white crosses at a France cemetery, where more than 9,000 American World War II troops are buried.

“This is what it means to me,” Larsen said Wednesday. “It don’t mean no church thing.”

He said the memorial is a tribute to Robert Deyo Jr., an Army private and Waterloo friend who was killed in Vietnam at age 20.

Mayor Brian Hatch said city officials didn’t believe there would be an issue in allowing Larsen’s memorial in the city park.

“We’re not looking to do anything wrong; we’re not looking to offend anybody,” Hatch said. “We don’t want to make a bigger deal out of this than what it was.”

He said the City Council will decide on whether to remove the memorial during a September meeting.

Knoxville, a town of 7,300, has a proud military heritage fueling the outpouring of local support for Larsen’s memorial, said First Presbyterian Church’s the Rev. Ramona Wink, who hopes the cross stays put.

Knoxville was home for decades to the Veterans Administration’s psychiatric hospital in the state before it closed in 2009. The Department of Affairs continues to run a clinic in Knoxville.

The AMVETS post has made an offer to purchase the small section of the park to keep the memorial and cross, said Don Zoutte, the post’s public relations officer.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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