Headstones with Nazi imagery on the graves of German POWs at U.S. national cemeteries in Texas and Utah will be removed amid criticism that they are disrespectful to veterans who fought against them in World War II.
The German POW headstones are located at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio and the Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City.
The grave markers bear swastikas and other symbols related to the German Third Reich, including tributes to Adolf Hitler.
“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,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said Monday.
The development is a major change from the position taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs when the grave markers were first noticed. The VA had said it was unable to remove them because they were covered under historical preservation regulations.
The VA now says it can replace the offending headstones with “historically accurate” markers that do not include the Nazi swastika and pro-Hitler text.
“It is understandably upsetting to our veterans and their families to see Nazi inscriptions near those who gave their lives for this nation,” Mr. Wilkie said. “That’s why (the) VA will initiate the process required to replace these POW headstones.”
At the time the POWs were interred, the cemeteries were under the administrative control of the Army. They were later transferred to the VA’s National Cemetery Administration.
The VA says it wants to preserve the headstones with the Nazi images in its history collection.
The department also will install interpretive signs at all VA cemeteries where enemy POWs were buried to provide context about how they ended up buried on American soil.