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Fight planned over war memorial in L.A.

Critics file lawsuit, saying the tribute to Medal of Honor recipients does not belong at a downtown park considered to be the city's birthplace. City officials say the suit is meritless.

December 05, 2009|By Seema Mehta
  • A man takes a nap near a war memorial to be unveiled at Father Serra Park in downtown Los Angeles.
A man takes a nap near a war memorial to be unveiled at Father Serra Park in… (Christina House / For The…)

After more than a decade of planning, a war memorial honoring the nation's nearly 3,500 recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, will be unveiled today at a downtown Los Angeles park.

But critics have argued that the city failed to properly scrutinize the project and wrongly allowed it to be built over an ancient Native American village. They plan to go to court Monday to try to force it to be dismantled from the site considered to be the historic birthplace of Los Angeles.

"We support Medal of Honor recipients and we believe they should be honored in an appropriate way at an appropriate place," said Robert Garcia, the attorney who filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the Concerned Citizens for South Central Los Angeles, the El Pueblo Park Assn., the Tongva Indian Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation and a descendant of one of L.A.'s 44 original families.

"Father Serra Park is not the right place, and this monument there is not the right way," Garcia added.

City officials said the suit, filed Thursday, is meritless.

"The city's actions have been proper," said Deputy City Atty. Siegmund Shyu.

In the mid-1990s, Latino veterans began asking for a memorial honoring the 40 Latino recipients of the Medal of Honor, believing their contributions were being forgotten.

Over time, the memorial evolved to honor all recipients. The memorial wall is 30 feet long, 5 feet high and bears every recipient's name.

Shyu said it was approved in concept by the City Council in 2000, and various other agencies have weighed in on its design and planning.

The proponents of the project, the Eugene A. Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Foundation, still hope to build a larger component, a 20-foot-high sculpture that honors the 40 Latino recipients. That project has not been approved.

The proposal features a statue of Marine Pfc. Eugene A. Obregon in the last moments of his life, on top of a pyramid. While serving in the Korean War, the 19-year-old left safety to shield a wounded comrade, and killed nearly two dozen enemy troops before being killed. Obregon grew up in East L.A., and was posthumously awarded the medal.

"Once the statue is built, they hope to implement an education program that educates young individuals about Latinos and their contributions to war," said Vanessa Ramirez, a foundation spokeswoman.

Garcia agrees that the causes are worthy, but says Father Serra Park is not the right place for it. In addition to being the site of Native American village, the location is considered the birthplace of L.A., the site of the massacre of 19 Chinese men and other historic events.

The Medal of Honor recipients have no ties to the area, and other proposals, such as a statue of Cesar Chavez, have been rejected for similar reasons, Garcia said. As a war memorial, the monument is offensive to both Serra, the Catholic founder of the missions, and the Native Americans, who often were the victims of American forces, he said.

Additionally, Garcia said, the monument takes much needed parkland from children in downtown Los Angeles, and would be better suited to a site such as the Los Angeles National Veterans Park or Los Angeles National Cemetery. He said his group will seek a court injunction Monday against the project, and hopes to force the city to move the memorial wall.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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