FRANKLY SPEAKING: New Hope for “The Cemetery America Forgot”
It sprawls over 17 acres, an open space that has partially returned to its jungle origins. There are patches of weeds, overgrown grass and trash that a half-looted steel fence no longer keeps vandals from dumping. There are countless small monuments and markers obscured from view, some still scarred by machine gun and artillery fire from World War II. Thick layers of volcanic ash cover everything, too.
And hidden underneath it all are the remains of more than 2,200 U.S. military veterans.
These are the appalling conditions within Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, and they have given it the shameful nickname of the “Cemetery American Forgot.”
It wasn’t always like this. The first soldiers were buried there shortly after the Spanish-American War, and burials continued throughout much of the 20th Century. The number of graves dramatically increased during the World War II-era. In time, 8,600 people ultimately came to rest in Clark Veterans Cemetery, including 2,200 U.S. Armed Services members and 700 Filipinos who served as military scouts. Responsibility for maintaining the cemetery shifted over the years between different branches of the U.S. military.
Then a big change occurred in 1991. There was a massive eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano, and the U.S. decided to permanently withdraw from the large air base surrounding it. Clark Veterans Cemetery was totally abandoned for the next three years, sending it into the neglected state it’s in today.
Volunteers have been tending to the cemetery as best as they can for the past 18 years. But the task is too great for them to handle. They need help.
Now help is at hand. I’m proud to report I’m doing something to assist them.
I recently introduced H.R. 4168, the Caring for the Fallen Act. It is designed to improve conditions in Clark Veterans Cemetery. This bill designates the American Battlefields Monuments Commission (ABMC) with the responsibility of continually caring for the cemetery, and authorizes it to make necessary arrangements to ensure its on-going maintenance. This legislation is budget neutral, with the ABMC paying for maintenance through existing appropriations.
Joining me in this effort is Rep. Bill Owens, (D-NY 23), an Air Force veteran and lead Democratic co-sponsor of the Caring for the Fallen Act. This is a great example of how Members of Congress can set aside partisan differences and work together for the common good. And we can all agree that honoring the men and women who sacrificed so much for our country is important.
This bill is just one example of the many things I’m doing to stand in support of all those who have worn the uniform. In the past year I have hosted a job fair for veterans and their families, have introduced legislation, calling for a full-service VA hospital or equivalent medical service for veterans in New Hampshire, supported a cost of living adjustment to benefits for disabled military veterans, and much more. You can read about them in greater detail at www.guinta.house.gov/issue/veterans.
When visitors enter Clark Veterans Cemetery, they pass through a gate that is inscribed with the words “Served with Honor.” Now it’s time Americans honor that service by restoring the dignity these brave men and women so richly deserve. The freedom we enjoy today is due to the sacrifices they made decades ago, and we are all forever in their debt. Making sure their tombstones are clean and legible and their graves are neatly mown and properly maintained is the very least we should do to express our gratitude.
The Caring for the Fallen Act has been sent to the Veterans Affairs Committee for consideration. I will keep you posted on this important bill’s status as it hopefully advances through Congress.
I look forward to reporting back to you in two weeks on the latest developments in Washington. In the meantime, if I can be of service to you, or if you want to share your thoughts, suggestions or concerns with me, please call either my district office in Manchester at (603) 641-9536 or my Washington office at (202) 225-5456, or contact me through my website at www.Guinta.House.Gov. You can also follow what I’m doing 24/7 on Facebook at www.facebook.com/repfrankguinta and on Twitter at @RepFrankGuinta.
Until next time, please know that I am always on your side and am actively fighting for New Hampshire’s interests in Washington.