We must preserve memorials to fallen heroes

By Senator Mike Morrell
Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Also published in: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Recently, I read with disappointment and sadness that the new Upland Veterans’ Monument has been subject to thousands of dollars in damage due to acts of vandalism. One individual in particular was caught on camera trying to pry a granite slab off of the monument blocks.

Memorials to fallen heroes can be found throughout our communities all over the country. They tell stories of selflessness and sacrifice that form the cornerstone of our shared history. It is our duty to ensure that young people today understand the significance of these individuals’ service and that they are never forgotten.

It was in response to incidents like what happened in Upland that the American G.I. Forum approached me about authoring legislation to hold individuals to greater accountability if they vandalize the gravesites or memorials of veterans or first responders.

Out of these conversations came Senate Bill 1080, what we thought was a straightforward proposal simply clarifying that it is a distinct crime to damage or destroy a veteran’s or first responder’s gravesite or memorial. However, some legislators found the bill to be unnecessarily contentious.

Numerous veterans and public safety groups from across the state officially backed the bill in the Senate Public Safety Committee. The bill also received vocal bipartisan support. We were surprised, however, that other legislative Democrats refused to vote in favor of it – a bill to protect the memories of those who gave their full measure of devotion to our country.

Service members, peace officers, firefighters, and first responders risk their lives to protect our neighborhoods and keep us safe. They hold a special place of honor in our communities. When memorials commemorating their sacrifices are vandalized, it has a significant impact not only on those whose loved ones’ acts of courage are memorialized, but on all who owe their lives to the ones lost by these men and women.

The destruction or vandalism of any gravesite is deplorable and, in particular, those memorials set up in recognition of our veterans. Law enforcement needs enhanced tools to penalize these vandals. SB 1080 would allow law enforcement to track any patterns of vandalism targeting and desecrating these tributes.

That the majority of the Senate Public Safety Committee rejected SB 1080 calls into question the resolve to hold vandals accountable for dishonoring the memories of fallen American heroes.

I am reminded of a young World War I veteran named Martin Treptow who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He lost his life in Europe. On his person they found these words in his diary: “America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”

That spirit is what is enshrined and inscribed at memorials and cemeteries in honor of fallen servicemen and women and first responders. It is stories like Martin Treptow’s that we must preserve and instill in the hearts of future generations. It is why we should do everything we can to ensure that their tributes are protected and respected.