The Fallen Soldier Battle Cross is a poignant image that has come to be associated with military loss. The practice of assembling them began during the Civil War. Before this time, soldiers who died were buried where they had fallen, and crude markers were erected to identify the spot as a grave. This practice changed during the Civil War, when the fallen were either sent home or placed in cemeteries near the battlefield. After a battle, the bodies that needed to be recovered had to be marked, and the most convenient nearby material for the task was the gun of the deceased. Plunging the bayonet of the rifle into the ground and topping it with their hat served to identify the locations of the dead that needed to be collected. In World War II these makeshift grave markers were used again, topped with helmets. The speed with which the soldiers advanced made it necessary for them to leave their comrades behind in shallow graves for Grave Registration Units to find and bury properly at a later time. Dog tags left dangling from the gun enabled the Grave Registration Units to identify those that they found.
Over time their meaning has evolved so that instead of being mere grave markers they now symbolize much more. In recent years, soldiers began to build them so they could serve as a place of mourning, a tribute to their fighters who had given the ultimate sacrifice. Those erected in later wars were usually composed of a helmet, rifle, dog tags, and combat boots. Each element has a special significance: the boots symbolize the soldier’s last march into battle; the tags and helmet identify the person, while the inversion of the rifle symbolizes a break in the action for reflection and prayer. While the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross is not considered an official military honor, it is usually part of the memorial ceremony held by troops and serves as a visual reminder of the fallen. Unable to attend the funerals of their deceased friends, many soldiers pay their respects to the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross. After an appropriate amount of time, they are disassembled and used to equip those that are still living.
The Fallen Soldier Battle Cross did not begin to garner much public attention until the Iraq War, and since that time their image has come to be iconic. The publication of photos of soldier’s coffins draped with flags has been discouraged, but many journalists and photographers distributed images of soldiers mourning before these small monuments during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Now that they have come to symbolize loss and respect for the dead, metal castings can be created to serve as a permanent monument to those brave soldiers who lost their lives. Fallen Soldier Battle Cross replicas can be made to serve as a personal reminder, a part of a larger memorial, or a patriotic decoration. The loss suffered by soldiers themselves and their families should never be forgotten. The quality work done by foundries allow for the cross and all it signifies to remain, long after the original has been taken apart.
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