The cross on the hill at the airport in Ocotillo Wells has been a fixture in the desert community for 51 years. But now because of one person complaining to the Public Works Department of the County of San Diego in January of this year it is slated for immediate removal.
Alex Bell, the Land Use & Environment Program Manager for the County of San Diego, said in an interview with Sherri Kukla of S&S Off Road Magazine recently, that according to the laws of the State and Federal constitutions it only takes a complaint by one person for a religious symbol to be removed from government property.
The cross is located on property owned by the County of San Diego. The airport property in Ocotillo Wells was given to the County of San Diego by the Federal Government in the 1950’s, according to Bell, with the stipulation that if the land should ever cease being used for aviation purposes, permission had to be received from the FAA for whatever purposes the land would be used for.
The first choice of the County of San Diego before planning for removal was to release the portion of the property the cross was situated on. However before doing that they needed FAA approval. Their request was denied. Bell stated there was no recourse for appealing the decision of the FAA. She then began reaching out to the local community to get ideas for somewhere to relocate the cross. When asked if the County would be responsible for erecting the cross should an alternate location be secured, as well as providing for whatever necessary County permits and fees were required, she said that would be “negotiated” at the time plans were made.
However, the off road community was not willing to immediately accept the decision of removal and relocation and vigorously began to oppose the decision.
As the true and actual history came out about the origins of the cross, veterans and patriots across the county, state and nation began joining in with hundreds of signatures being collected on the #SaveTheOcotilloWellsMemorialCross petition website.
The Ocotillo Wells Memorial Cross was erected in 1966 in honor of Jim B. Robison, a 21-year-old San Diego County and Ocotillo Wells resident, who was killed in action in Vietnam. In addition to Jim’s family being a part of erecting the cross, it also was a memorial for two other members of the Ocotillo Wells community, Mrs. Helen Pratt and Mrs. Eileen Lewis. Family members of all three were involved in erecting the cross. Jim Robison’s father, Elmo Robison, was the local Sheriff living in Ocotillo Wells across the street from the site of the cross at the time his son was killed in service to our country.
For many years the view of the cross across the street from his home was a comfort to he and his wife and family members. Tom Lemmon, the nephew of Robison, was only 7 years old in 1966 and remembers his Uncle Jim as the “uncle every boy wanted.” Tom lost his only uncle when he was killed in Vietnam and to this day takes comfort in seeing the memorial across the street from the family home that eventually was passed on to him.
The cross has been a source of comfort to generations of other families as well who have lost loved ones and scattered their ashes at their favorite desert near the foot of the cross. It has also become a navigational beacon for families recreating in the desert who need a point of reference for meeting up or figuring out where they are in the remote desert. The Memorial Cross has been the site of Easter services for over three decades and has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands over the last 51 years and now because of one complaint the threat of removal hangs in the air.
Visit #SaveTheOcotilloWellsMemorialCross petition site and make your voice heard.