Oregon Bomb Investigation Centers on Controversial Veterans Memorial

1972 Vietnam Memorial in Coos Bay, Ore photo courtesy of The World

Federal authorities are now involved in the investigation of a minor bombing and the threat of more violence in Coos Bay, Ore., where a Christian cross attached to a Vietnam War memorial is the focus of controversy.

A small improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated at the memorial on the evening of Aug. 22, several months after someone spray-painted a dotted line and the words “cut off here” at the base of the cross, The Oregonian reported. The 5 1/2-foot tall monument is in Mingus Park, erected in 1972 under the sponsorship of the Jaycees and Western Bank.

On Sept. 3, Coos Bay firefighters responding to a structure fire found a second, unexploded IED inside The Prayer Chapel, a Coos Bay church that has offered to move the memorial to its property, other media outlets reported.

Police sealed off a large area surrounding the church while bomb disposal experts took about an hour to disarm the device. Since then, the FBI has sent approximately a dozen agents to Coos Bay to assist in the investigation, according to media reports.

The controversy began last February when the Freedom From Religion organization and the American Civil Liberties Union, representing city residents, asked the city to remove the 41-year-old war memorial.

“We have no objection to veterans’ memorials,” Rebecca Markert, staff attorney for Freedom From Religion, told the city in a letter. “Our objection is to the message of endorsement of Christianity over other religions and over non religion. Additionally, the Christian-only memorial sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not Jewish, other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers.

A letter from a group calling itself “Veterans United for Non-religious Memorials” was received Monday by Coos Bay city officials, claiming responsibility for the explosive devices, but its authenticity is in question, The World newspaper in Coos Bay reported.

“Apparently you are not receiving our message about the Mingus Park Veterans Memorial,” the letter said. “We gave you warnings with the minor explosive devices at the memorial and at the Bay Area House of Prayer.”

“From now forward, we hold each of you personally responsible for causing deeper grief and insult to the families and friends of non-Christian Veterans,” the letter said. It said if the city “does not now comply with prompt removal of the cross, we will take increased action against you, your staff, religious leaders and faith based structures.”