11 June 2020

Nazi Symbol on Headstone in Fort Douglas Cemetery

Headstone as it appears today, soon after Memorial Day 2020

Veterans Affairs recently announced that they will be removing this WWII grave marker from a German POW buried in the Fort Douglas Cemetery. 

There are only three headstones with swastikas in US military cemeteries, this one at Fort Douglas and two at Fort Sam Houston. All 3 are scheduled for removal

After removal, the VA plans to store the headstones in the National Cemetery Administration History Collection where they will be preserved.

Paul Eilert was 38 years old when he died of cancer in 1944 at Bushnell Army Hospital. He was the first WWII German POW to die in Utah. That may be why his headstone is so unique as he died before there was an official Army policy in place for WWII POW headstones.

The headstone was privately purchased by other German POWs who pooled their meager earnings of 80 cents per day to purchase it. With full permission of the US Army, donations totaling $275 were used to purchase the headstone.

Not much is known about Eilert’s life before or during the war. Most of what is known about him is from his death certificate. He was an unmarried factory worker in Berlin before the war. He attained the rank of Corporal in the German Army.

There seems to be some confusion if the engraving on the headstone is that of a Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves (a high-level Nazi award) or is an Iron Cross (equivalent of today’s US Army Bronze Star award for heroism in battle). Most recent newspaper articles refer to it as a Knight’s Cross but the SL Tribune article from 1944 when he was buried calls it an Iron Cross.

Sources: MilitaryTimes June 1 2020; SL Trib May 25 2020; SL Trib Oct 6 1944; Splinters of a Nation by A.K. Powell.

Headstone as it appears today, soon after Memorial Day 2020

Headstone when it was installed, SL Trib Oct 6 1944

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