Mojave Cross returns in time for Veteran's Day

Jason Sloss, KESQ News Channel 3 Anchor & Reporter, jsloss@kesq.com
POSTED: 05:32 PM PST Nov 09, 2012    UPDATED: 10:43 PM PST Nov 09, 2012 
YUCCA MESA, Calif. -

After years of controversy and court battles, a cross to honor war veterans will once again go up in the Mojave National Preserve.
     
No one has fought harder for it's return than longtime caretakers and Yucca Mesa residents Henry and Wanda Sandoz.

"We feel like it's mission accomplished," said Wanda.

A new cross will be hoisted and mounted with a ceremony on Veteran's Day.

"The armistice in Word War I was signed the eleventh day, the eleventh month, the eleventh hour. It just so happens it's eleven o'clock when the cross goes back up."

The history of the cross goes back nearly 80 years.
     
World War I vet Riley Bembry put up the first Mojave Cross on a rock pile back in 1934 to honor war dead.

In 1983, he asked his friend Henry to take care of the cross. He did, with help from his wife, for nearly 20 years.
     
But in 2002, a court ruled the cross was unconstitutional as a religious symbol on public land.
    
It was covered with a plywood box and the Sandoz family was no longer allowed to watch over the cross.

"It's just hard to believe in this country anyone would take offense to a cross that's put up in honor of veterans," Wanda said.
 
Two and a half years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the cross could stay. But days later, it was stolen.
     
When someone put up another cross, the park service said it had to come down because it wasn't the original.
     
But a key ruling came earlier this year allowing a land swap.

"We traded five acres of land we own in the Mojave National Preserve for the one acre the cross will sit on," said Wanda.

Last week, the deal was made and that one acre now belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"And it's going to be there as long as the veterans maintain it. If not, I guess I would," said Henry.

In a strange twist earlier this week, the original stolen cross was found in the San Francisco Bay area -- with a note on the side of a road.     
     
It will be shipped back to the Sandoz family.          

"I really hope we'll never need it as a spare. But we'll have it if we do," said Wanda.