Bladensburg’s World War I Peace Cross Memorial rededicated on Veterans Day

People gather at Bladensburg’s Peace Cross Memorial on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2022. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Veterans and those who want to honor them gather yearly at the Peace Cross Memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, which dates back to 1925 — and was rededicated on Friday.

Among the veterans, elected leaders and advocates in attendance was Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who said he was raised “just down the road” from the monument, and remembers riding by it almost daily as a child.

The ownership of the Peace Cross by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has been challenged as violating the separation of church and state. American Legion v. American Humanist Association eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

“As soon as I learned that a federal appeals court had deemed that this Peace Cross was unconstitutional, I was shocked and disgusted, and I immediately began to fight back,” Hogan said Friday. He directed Maryland’s attorney general to file an amicus brief in the case.

“The idea that memorializing soldiers killed in battle on foreign lands to make the world safe for democracy could be unconstitutional, somehow, was an insult to our veterans, and it went against everything that we stand for as Americans,” he added.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 in favor of allowing the 40-foot monument to remain in its current location: Within a circle at U.S. Route 1/Baltimore Avenue and Annapolis Road, on public land.

“The people of this county first put up this Peace Cross; the people fought to keep it up, and now, thanks to the efforts of so many, it will forever be a permanent landmark and memorial here,” Hogan said.

Friday’s ceremony was punctuated by bouts of heavy rain, and the crowd did not always successfully keep dry under tents. Many people huddled under umbrellas.

The rain held off during a rendition of taps that preceded a reading of the names on the memorial — 49 Prince Georgians who died in Europe during World War I.

“It’s a privilege for me to be able to play in honor of our fallen veterans,” said Robert Kiker, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office. Many of Kiker’s current family and ancestors are veterans.

“I’ve been playing for the past 25 years, as of today, at this Veterans Day service,” he said.

Kiker believes the monument represents the broader service of all veterans: “Current-day veterans may not be named on the wall, but they’re remembered because of the Peace Cross.”

The ceremony followed a comprehensive restoration of the structure’s concrete and decorative facing. Over the years, wear and tear on the memorial has been made worse by a lightning strike and flood damage — it’s even been hit by vehicles.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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