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Mare Island Cemetery effort to start anew with 2019, organizers vow
Times-Herald - 1/2/2019
Jan. 01--Despite the hopes and countless hours invested by those working to save the Mare Island Naval Cemetery, the United States Congress did not take up the effort to place the deteriorating graveyard under the auspices of the Veterans Administration in 2018. Due to this, it will essentially have to start over with the New Year, those spearheading the effort said.
This struggle has been ongoing since April, 2017, when D.C.-area-based retired U.S. Navy Capt. Ralph Parrott discovered the issue existed during a day trip to the island.
Though disappointed, no one working on this seems willing to give up finding a permanent solution to the problem created when the Navy ceded Mare Island, including the oldest military cemetery on the West Coast, to the city of Vallejo with the 1996 closure of the shipyard, while including no mechanism for its upkeep.
"The Mare Island Cemetery is an important national landmark and the final resting place for hundreds of our fallen American heroes," Rep. Mike Thompson said this week. "I plan to reintroduce my bill to restore and maintain the cemetery in the 116th Congress and will continue fighting for passage."
Thompson originally introduced H.R. 5588 in April, 2018, which "directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to seek out an agreement with the City of Vallejo, under which the city would transfer control of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA. The cemetery would specifically be placed under the purview of the National Cemetery Administration. The VA would pay no fee to acquire the land, but would assume the obligation of maintaining the cemetery in the future."
Also disappointed, Parrott, whose reaction to finding the graveyard in deplorable condition, set the wheels for this effort in motion, said, "So we begin again, my friends."
He called in an email for the Vallejo area's main booster, Nestor Aliga, to "re-energize the California veterans and start the process of being a pain in the ass one more time."
Parrott blames the legislature's failure to address the issue in part on President Donald Trump's partial government shut down.
"The Mare Island Senate legislation was going to be included in the omnibus VA bill at the end of the session which would be included in the Continuing Resolution that would have kept the government open," he said. "Of course, that bill did not happen, so we are where we are because of the government shutdown over that silly damned wall."
Aliga says the effort has come too far to abandon it now.
"First, I would like to again thank Rep. Mike Thompson and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for introducing H.R.5588 in April and S.2881 in May, respectively; ...," he said. "I'm obviously disappointed that we could not get the MINC bills passed this December..., but the good news is that I've received assurances that similar MINC bills will be re-introduced in the 116th Congress (starting 2019)."
Aliga said he plans to "locally do whatever is necessary to make MINC a national shrine for our three Medal of Honor recipients and over 800 heroes buried there, justly deserve." He thanked tens of thousands of supporters, including www.VallejoVetsBuilding.org vets, the 55,000 that signed a petition on the matter, the Vallejo City Council, the Solano Board of Supervisors, State Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Tim Grayson for their Joint Resolution #26, the American Legion, VFW, DAV, AmVets, Navy League, VMFP, "and of course retired US Navy Captain Ralph Parrott and Thomas Bandzul of www.vmfp.org, walking the halls of Congress --are the wind beneath our wings."
Meanwhile, Aliga is trying to keep on top of another MINC-centered effort --an Innovative Readiness Training project; a short-term remedy which it is hoped will be able to make initial fixes, including repairing or replacing fencing, a flagpole, and the damaged drainage system --which is supposed to start in 2019.
"This could actually set in motion another proposal: for the City of Vallejo to transfer MINC and adjacent land back to the Navy; get National Defense Authorization Act funding for the Navy to fix MINC --similar to the Mare Island Rifle Range remediation, and then, for the Navy to administratively transfer MINC back to the VA in accordance with the original intent of Public Law No: 93-43 (06/18/1973) National Cemeteries Act 'Jurisdiction, Transfer,'" Aliga said. This law states: "There are hereby transferred from the Secretary of the Navy to the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs all jurisdiction over, and responsibility for, any cemetery (including burial plots), memorial, or monument under the jurisdiction of either Secretary immediately preceding the effective date of this section," he said, adding that had this law been followed in the first place, jurisdiction for MINC would have transferred from the Navy to the VA either in 1973 or during the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) in 1993.
Aliga said he has researched several possible alternatives he plans to suggest, as well, like, "giving the State of California additional funding for a local 'national shrine subcontract' for repairing and maintaining MINC; and checking 'PL 93-43 § 1005. Disposition of inactive cemeteries,' which states, 'in the event the grantee shall cease or fail to care for and maintain the cemetery or burial plot or the graves and monuments contained therein in a manner satisfactory to the administrator, all such right, title, and interest transferred or conveyed by the United States shall revert to the United States.'"
Back in May, VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy C. Reeves "quietly visited MINC..." "and while testifying at the House Veteran Affairs Committee on June 7, 2018, acknowledged his 'heart is broken' at MINC's unsatisfactory condition," Aliga said.
Aliga further said he plans to write to Trump, and ask that he "issue an Executive Order --similar to #12115, Permanent American Cemetery in the Republic of Panama --to transfer MINC to the VA as soon as practical."
If small American cemeteries overseas, like those in Rhone in France and Belgium's Flanders Field, can be fully funded and immaculately maintained, those here at home, should be able to be, too, he said.
"So I beg to ask our U.S. Government, why don't our American veterans buried in our own homeland deserve as much respect as our American veterans buried overseas?" Aliga said.
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