Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, welcomed the support of an influential lawmaker and veterans advocate to the fight to save an historically significant veterans memorial statue of Jesus in northwest Montana. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (FL-1) will appear as an original co-sponsor to legislation Rehberg introduced today that allows for a land exchange between Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Federal Government of the approximate 625 square feet (25' x 25') of land under which the monument rests.
"Defending a memorial that honors America's heroes is one of the many debts we owe our veterans," said Chairman Miller. "My friend Denny has always been a tremendous supporter of veterans. His efforts to save this memorial have been well appreciated around the country, and I'm proud to stand with him and all those who see that statue for what it is; a memorial to our soldiers, by our soldiers, and that's something we should all support."
"Chairman Miller is a tireless advocate for veterans and a staunch defender of the freedoms they fight to preserve in this country," said Rehberg, who has worked with Miller on veterans issues since 2001 when they were both sworn-in. "Chairman Miller's support sends a strong message that veterans and others who believe this memorial dedication to our soldiers is not a government endorsement of religion, but a grateful country's endorsement of the obligation we have to remember those who fought and died to keep us free."
The WWII memorial has been located on Big Mountain for over 60 years, having been placed there by the Knights of Columbus and Montana veterans of the 10th Mountain Division. The statue is located at the top of one of the resorts' ski runs and sits on land leased from the Forest Service by the Knights of Columbus. It became a source of controversy after a Wisconsin-based atheist organization opposed the renewal of the lease and threatened court action. The Forest Service originally decided against renewing the lease, but has since delayed the decision and agreed to open the issue to public comment amid strong public support for the memorial.
Rehberg is working with local advocates on a potential historical listing of the statue, but introduced his legislation allowing for the land exchange, for an equal amount of land offered by the resort, in the event other avenues prove unsuccessful.
"I attended a support rally in Whitefish last week and came away with an even greater appreciation for those who are standing firm, and standing together to preserve this historic and cultural landmark," said Rehberg. "There were hundreds in attendance, many of whom are veterans. I'm grateful to them for the active service, and for the fact they continue to serve our country still. We can't thank them enough."
Rehberg launched a website, www.VeteransJesus.com, where the public can submit official comments to the Forest Service regarding the memorial.