Marine Capt. Michael Martino

The parents of a Marine who died in Iraq are urging President Bush to help ensure their son continues to be memorialized under a historic cross threatened by a judge’s order.

Robert and Sybil Martino want the federal park service to take over the Mt. Soledad war memorial site from the city of San Diego, which is at the center of a 17-year dispute begun by an atheist charging the cross violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

The Martinos’ son, Capt. Michael Martino, was killed in action in Iraq last November when his Cobra helicopter was shot down by a Russian shoulder-mounted SA-16 surface-to-air missile.

As WorldNetDaily reported, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city of San Diego May 3 to remove the mountain-top cross within 90 days or face a fine of $5,000 a day. Thompson ruled the 29-foot structure unconstitutional in 1991, but the case has remained in courts and become an issue of public policy.

Capt. Michael Martino in Cobra helicopter

In a letter to Bush, the Martinos write, “Our son loved his country and the many rights and liberties it provided. … Our son died with a strong belief that he was fighting to preserve the freedom of all Americans. Please let us have OUR freedom from activist judges and their personal interpretation of our Constitution.”

The Martinos also have asked military veterans Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to approach the president.

Last month, members of the slain officer’s Camp Pendleton unit, which recently returned from Iraq, dedicated a plaque at Mt. Soledad to commemorate his legacy. More than 300 fellow Marines stood in line for over three hours to pay their respects to the parents.

The Martinos expressed “the feelings of honor [they] felt at having their son memorialized for all time under the cross at Mt. Soledad.”

The parents said “there is no better place on the West Coast to honor our fallen heroes than under that cross overlooking the country they fought and died to preserve.”

Robert Marino, noting the cross’s existence in one form or another since 1913, contends the Soledad cross “is no more an affront to personal beliefs than the thousands of crosses at Arlington.”

Michael Martino, 32, was awarded posthumously a Purple Heart and promoted to the rank of Marine major. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from the University of California at San Diego.

His father characterized him “as a determined young man who was focused and always gave it his all.”

According to Marine Maj. Thomas Dolan, Michael Martino “routinely demonstrated valor and poise despite the chaos” of war. …

“He did a lot of dangerous work yet … always played down what he did,” Dolan said.

Col. Thomas D. Weidley, Michael Martino’s commanding officer, said in a letter to the parents that their son “performed his duties above expectations. … He was always in the books, studying his aircraft, weapon systems and the enemy. One of the smartest pilots we have. … Sacrifice, selfless service and uncommon valor are the staples of this generation of American service members, to which Mike was a part. We miss him terribly. He will never be forgotten.”

The Martinos are disturbed that one atheist would be allowed by the courts to dismantle a cross that forms a significant part of the historic war memorial.

In a letter to McCain, the Martinos asked, “is it fair to the majority and to those who have served or have fallen in the service for our nation who wish to keep the cross to appease a few who look to strip all religion from our country under a false interpretation of the separation of church and state? Our son died with a strong belief that he was fighting to preserve the freedom of all Americans.”

Along with Hunter and McCain, the Martinos are asking newly elected Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray to help persuade the White House to federalize the site, making it a national war memorial.

The American Family Association has launched a campaign asking citizens to send an e-mail to the president to effectively take “the case out of Judge Thompson’s hands” by signing an executive order transferring the land to the National Park Service.

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Previous stories:

Cross battle goes to Washington

Citizens prepare appeal to save cross

American Legion joins cross fray

Bush urged to save San Diego cross

Lawmaker denounces cross removal

Judge orders San Diego cross removed

San Diego to appeal cross decision

San Diegans vote to save cross

Judge denies atheist’s bid in cross case

ACLU threatens talk-show hosts over cross

Voters to decide on historic cross

Congress gets into ACLU cross brouhaha

Vet sues to save mountaintop cross

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