The veterans memorial in Ocotillo Wells, Calif., was preserved from being taken down or moved after American Legion Post 853 in Borrego Springs, Calif., purchased the land that the memorial rests on. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion

Reistad praises Legion post for saving veteran’s memorial

The memory and service of Vietnam War veteran Jim B. Robison will be preserved, thanks to The American Legion.

On Jan. 2, a celebratory ceremony was held at a small airport in Ocotillo Wells, Calif., where American Legion Post 853 will serve as caretaker for the Robison memorial, which was dedicated on Feb. 7, 1966.

“It is absolutely vital for The American Legion to preserve the memories of all fallen servicemen and servicewomen like Jim,” American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said at the ceremony. “Without their courage, integrity and service, Americans would not enjoy the freedoms that we do today.”

The memorial sits on a small hill in a barren desert, roughly 100 miles northeast of San Diego. Its concrete and brick base supports a metal cross, which is about 20 feet high.

Two years ago, a single complaint was lodged, suggesting that the memorial was in violation of the First Amendment because at the time it sat on public land owned by the airport. San Diego County, which oversees the airport, considered moving the memorial to another location, which drew an outcry from local residents.

Robison’s nephew, Tom Lemmon, and Ocotillo Wells resident Sherri Kukla rallied the community to save the memorial. American Legion District 22 of California and First Liberty Institute joined the fight.

“To us, this was a no-brainer,” said District 22 Commander Chris Yates. “It’s our duty to preserve the memories of our fallen brothers and sisters for their families, their communities and future generations.”

When Post 853 agreed to own and take care of the quarter-acre parcel where the memorial sits, the agreement moved forward.

“We are blessed to have the commitment of Post 853,” Yates said, noting the official transfer occurred last month. “It’s such a relief to know that they will ensure that this veteran’s majestic memorial will stay here forever in his hometown.”

First Liberty Institute senior counsel Roger Byron, a Navy veteran, worked with the Legion, Robison’s family and others to secure the deal.

“The memorial will continue to stand for years to come in honor of the fallen American solider it was erected to commemorate,” Byron said. “In my mind, the Legion rode in on a white horse and ensured that the honor of the fallen American servicemember — as well as the sanctity of the memorial erected to honor him — would continue to stand for years to come.”

Reistad thanked Yates, Post 853 Commander Richard Dobbins and the entire post membership for their roles in saving the memorial.

“Their dedication ensures the memorial will remain in its rightful place,” Reistad said. “And that is why we gather here today: To celebrate the confirmation that the Jim B. Robison Memorial will remain a permanent marker in Ocotillo Wells. To honor those who worked to ensure that this day would come. And most of all — to remember Jim’s service to a grateful nation.”