Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: A baseball field, TV show and now a cross.

July 30, 2008 |  9:48 pm

At the Marine base at Al Asad, Iraq, a playing field is dedicated to Marine Majs. Michael Martino and Gerald Bloomfield, who were killed when their Super Cobra helicopter was shot down Nov. 2, 2005.

Helicopter squads, decompressing after daily flights throughout Iraq, gather at the Flying Diamonds Bloomfield-Martino Baseball Field.

Soledadcross_3 The opening episode of the sixth season of the TV series "24" also was dedicated to the two crewmen, after Camp Pendleton Marines helped the producers with some helicopter scenes for one of Jack Bauer's adventures.

Now it might be said that the 43-foot cross atop San Diego's Mt. Soledad is also a memorial to Martino and Bloomfield.

The cross is at the center of a complex legal issue involving the constitutional separation of church and state vs. the federal government's right to have crosses on its property. More litigation is possible.

But in his ruling Wednesday that the cross is a war memorial and not predominantly a religious symbol, and therefore can remain on the promontory near Interstate 5, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns cited a brief filed by the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Martino's parents and Bloomfield's widow.

In a ceremony attended by 300 Marines, plaques memorializing Bloomfield and Martino were added in May 2006 to the 2,000-plus already affixed to the base of the cross.

In his opinion, Burns noted a photograph showing the ceremony attached to the brief: "The cross plays no noticeable role in the ceremony itself. An objective observor happening upon such a ceremony would immediately perceive its patriotic and military character and would not take away a religious message."

The ACLU, which believes the cross should be removed, may appeal Burns' ruling. But for the moment, lawyers for the two families are celebrating what they call a victory.

--Tony Perry

Photo: The cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego

Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times