Town fights to keep cross in veterans park

Town fights to keep cross in veterans park

LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. - There's controversy over a cross in one central Minnesota community.

Long Prairie received a complaint about a cross that stands in the city-owned Veterans Memorial Park, citing separation of church and state protected in the First Amendment.

The highest peak in downtown Long Prairie is a statue of the original flag raising on Iwo Jima, so take it from Long Prairie's 75-year-old Navy veteran and mayor -- this town respects its veterans.

“Oh very much so,” said Mayor Don Rasmussen, who served from 1960-1964.

Dedicated in 2002, Long Prairie's Veteran's Memorial Park also features a "Huey" helicopter and a Vietnam wall.

“This depicts the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Rasmussen said, pointing to the cross on public property that now everyone in town seems to be talking about.

“There are a lot of veterans that are really ticked off,” Rasmussen said.

He recently received a letter from a Washington DC group called “Americans United for Separation of Church and State.” The first line reads, “We have received a complaint about a religious display in Veterans Memorial Park.”

The letter asks Long Prairie to take down the cross.

Rather than fight them or ignore them, the city came up with a different plan: To give the city-owned park land to the American Legion and VFW, making it private land, and allowing them to keep the cross.

“Tears of joy. We were just glad it was ours, it could stay. We could do what we wanted with it. It means everything to us,” said Vonnie Heckt, Long Prairie’s American Legion Commander who served in the Marine Corps in the early 1970s.

For the city's veterans, it's a happy ending.

The person who made the initial complaint is still a mystery. That's something that bothers veterans and city leaders in Long Prairie.

“If they’ve got a gripe, come talk. Don't be going around behind our backs. Come talk to us and see what we can do about it,” Rasmussen said.

Long Prairie's now-private memorial park will still welcome those wishing to honor veterans.

The mayor says the land transfer could become final as soon as Wednesday. City leaders and veterans were especially sensitive about the cross because last year someone tipped it over and stole eight flags.


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