PALMDALE, Calif.—In a solemn ceremony held in 100-degree-plus summer heat, veterans, their friends, families and city leaders gathered for the unveiling of a monument to Antelope Valley troops killed in combat, what is known as the Battlefield Cross.
The memorial is seated at the base of the flagpole that flies the enormous American flag in Poncitlan Square, the community park a short distance from Palmdale City Hall.
The design of the memorial is simple, consisting of a pair of bronze combat boots that form the base, with a combat infantry rifle – the long-serving M-16 — topped by a bronze helmet with symbolic “dog tag” soldier’s identification suspended beneath the helmet.
The inscription at the base reads “In Honor of the Fallen Military Heroes of the Antelope Valley.”
Knowledge about the identities of those heroes varies depending on personal attachments to the history of those from the Antelope Valley who served, and were killed, serving in the nation’s armed forces.
One of the Valley’s best known memorials is the Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial, the half-scale tribute wall that honors the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., with names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam.
One listing is the “AV 76,” the names of 76 young men from the Antelope Valley whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial, and the Antelope Valley memorial known simply as “The AV Wall.” Special Memorial Day editions of a local newspaper published a Memorial front page with names and photographs of the more than 15 local Americans who were killed fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For many years, since the 2009 opening of the AV Wall, the community-based organization that supports it has placed a Battlefield Cross consisting of Vietnam War boots, helmet, and M-16 at center near the base of the monument.
On July 27, 2023, about 100 military supporters joined City Council members who lifted the cover on the Battlefield Cross.
Mayor Laura Bettencourt welcomed Marine veteran Tony Tortolano who was recently named the city’s “Veteran Of The Year” to deliver remarks at dedication of the monument.
The custom of the Battlefield Cross, Tortolano said, “Is believed to have originated around the time of the Civil War. In its day, a hasty marker near where the soldier fell.
In more recent conflicts, since the Korean War, the mortal remains of troops have been sent back to the United States for interment at cemeteries, but the Battlefield Cross is a symbolic component of military ceremonies.
“It is a symbol of loss and mourning,” Tortolano said. Addressing the debt owed to those who could not attend because of their death in service, he said, “Thank you for your incredible service. May we never forget the sacrifice of those killed serving their country.”
State Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a former city council member who spoke briefly, said, “Their sacrifice is permanent. They no longer can associate with their families. And for those who survived, many survive with many challenges.” He added, “We can’t do enough to recognize the service of veterans.”
Carl Hernandez, a leader with American Legion Post 348 and a Vietnam War veteran, said, “Seven of my friends I went to high school with are on that ‘AV Wall,’ and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“This symbol honors the many who sacrificed their lives for this country,” Hernandez said.
The bronze monument, built with funds from Measure AV, a voter-passed initiative, was designed with participation from area veterans’ groups that included the American Legion, Post 348, VFW Posts 3000 and 3552, Coffee4Vets, the AV Veterans Community Action Coalition, Vets4Veterans and Point Man Antelope Valley, the non-profit that serves as guardians of the AV Wall.
Editor’s note: Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. An Army veteran who deployed to Iraq as embedded journalist with California National Guard, he serves as Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s appointee on the Los Angeles County Veterans Advisory Commission.