Knights Defend 10th Infantry Division´s WWII Memorial
Knights from Montana are defending a memorial statue built by veterans of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division as a tribute to their, and their comrades’, service and sacrifice during World War II. The memorial, a statue of Christ located on top of Big Mountain in Whitefish, Mont. is being threatened with eviction because of its religious symbolism.
The statue was originally erected in 1953 by veterans of the 10th Mountain Division and members of Kalispell Council 1328 as a memorial to World War II veterans, and was meant to be reminiscent of religious statues and monuments that returning veterans saw during fighting in the European countryside. The 10th Mountain Division fought a grueling campaign in Italy from January 1945 to the war’s end.
Since the statue was built by the veterans and Knights, it has become a piece of history and tradition on Big Mountain.
Local Knights from Kalispell Council 1328 filed for a 10-year renewal of the lease, but their request was rejected by the Flathead National Forest, who said that the statue was an “inappropriate use” of federal land, and represented an establishment of religion by the Federal Government.
The statue, which depicts Christ with His arms outstretched, was recently denied a permit extension and was ordered to be removed by year’s end, when the lease on the 25-by-25 foot plot of land expired.
In the appeal to the Flathead National Forest and the USDA Forest Service, Charles Harball, representing Kalispell Council 1328, wrote: “The statue may not be moved without seriously compromising the integrity of our values. The very fact that it has existed at the present site for almost 60 years speaks to its historic significance. The import of history is that many things do change over time and it is from an historical perspective that we can better evaluate the direction from which we came and where we wish to move to in the future.”
Local and national news stories have created a public outcry, and Flathead National Forest has decided to suspend its initial decision ordering the removal of the monument, and has opened the topic up for public discussion. It is expected that the governing body will make a final decision in the next few weeks.
Local Knights, along with supporters in Congress and in the community, continue to make their case for why the statue is an important and historic part of the Whitefish community, and why, as a war memorial, it is an appropriate use of public land.
“The Knights of Columbus is honored to have memorialized the World War II service of the heroic men of the 10th Mountain Division,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “We applaud the work of our brother Knights in Kalispell on behalf of our right to religious liberty, and should their appeal of the Forest Service decision be unsuccessful, we will work with the Montana state council and local Kalispell council to consider the legal remedies available.”