Department of Defense sells Mt. Soledad Memorial - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Department of Defense sells Mt. Soledad Memorial

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/ CNS) - On Monday, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association announced it had purchased the half-acre property that holds the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial for $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The memorial contains a cross that has been the source of controversy for decades.

The memorial has been caught in a decades-long legal battle over the fate of a 29-foot cross, which opponents contend is a government endorsement of a particular religion. The land was owned by the city of San Diego before the federal government took it over nine years ago.

In 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled the cross violates the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause which prevents the government from creating a national religion or church -- and ordered the case returned to district court for disposition.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns subsequently ordered that the cross be removed, pending further appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to 
take the case.

The Mount Soledad Memorial Association has overseen the maintenance and administration of the memorial from its inception in 1954.

The sales price was $1.4 million with the all-cash transaction completed on Friday, July 17. It follows the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, signed into law by Congress and signed by the President of the United States in December 2014, calling for the sale of the property by the federal government to the association.

"I am honored to be leading our Association at this most significant time in our Memorial's history," said Bruce Bailey, President and CEO of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association board of trustees. "It marks the first time where our membership can manage the Memorial's affairs from a place of ownership and accountability for the property, which is a new and welcomed step for the Association."

Bailey noted that Mt. Soledad is one of the most visited parks in San Diego County.

The memorial was established in 1954 with the building of a 27-foot Latin cross. The original memorial honored veterans of the Korean War who had made the ultimate sacrifice to their country.

In 2000, the Association expanded the Memorial with the installation of six curved walls with black granite plaques that pay tribute to individual veterans.

An additional five walls were added in 2013 to form a complete circle at the apex of Soledad Natural Park.

The association hosts major events on Memorial Day and the week of Veterans Day, and oversees more than 40 ceremonies each year to honor individuals who served in the military.

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