Kelly Ayotte

In Support of Clark Veterans Cemetery Legislation - June 27, 2012

Kelly Ayotte
June 27, 2012— Washington, D.C.
Statement to Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
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Thank you, Madam Chair and Ranking Member Burr, for convening this hearing today. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before this distinguished committee regarding the Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012 (S. 2320), which Senator Begich and I introduced earlier this year, and which several members of this committee are cosponsoring. I would like to personally recognize and thank the members of this committee that are cosponsoring my bill, which are Senator Akaka, Senator Brown, Senator Isakson and Senator Wicker.

From Normandy to Panama, America's veterans' cemeteries serve as a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice thousands of brave men and women have made on distant battlefields to protect our country. Maintaining America's veterans' cemeteries is a well-recognized responsibility of the federal government, and we have a moral obligation to make sure these cemeteries are properly cared for. One of those cemeteries is Clark Veterans Cemetery, in the Philippines, which contains the remains of more than 8,300 United States service members and their dependents.

In 1991, the United States abandoned Clark Air Force base in the wake of a volcanic eruption. And, after 90 years of maintaining custodianship, the United States also abandoned the graves of these brave Americans - leaving them unattended under a thick layer of ash. Over the next few years, the condition of the cemetery worsened, leaving the graves of our courageous veterans in an unacceptable state. Before you, and on the committee member's iPads, are pictures of what happened to the Clark Veterans Cemetery. You can see from these pictures that no man or woman or their dependents who have served our country admirably, should their remains be left in a cemetery that is in this condition and not cared for by our government.

Private volunteers became so concerned about the state of this cemetery that they volunteered and attempted to honor our service members and their families buried there by maintaining this cemetery at their own expense. I want to thank the Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration Association and its president, Dennis Wright, for volunteering their own time and resources to attempt to right this wrong and to give the service members buried at Clark the dignity that they deserve.

While these private citizens deserve our gratitude, the United States government has a moral responsibility to care for veterans cemeteries that honor the remains of those who have bravely served our country. For almost a century, the United States government cared for those buried at Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines. Now it is time for the United States to resume its responsibilities. Our legislation would accomplish this by requiring the American Battle Monuments Commission to restore, operate and maintain Clark Veterans Cemetery to honor the courageous Americans that are buried there.

In fact, Senate Resolution 481, which passed the Senate by voice vote on June 5, concluded that the United States government should designate an appropriate United States entity to be responsible for ongoing maintenance of Clark Veterans Cemetery.

Military cemeteries are managed by three federal agencies: the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration, in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that is the agency that maintains our cemeteries, and the military departments manage cemeteries that are located on military installations.

Of these three federal agencies, American Battle Monuments Commission, which is responsible for "designing, constructing, operating and maintaining permanent American cemeteries in foreign countries," is the most appropriate agency to assume responsibility for Clark Veterans Cemetery, because the cemetery is a permanent American cemetery in a foreign country.

Although the American Battle Monuments Commission focuses much of its efforts on historical cemeteries and monuments in Europe, the commission also maintains the Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, which is very similar to the Clark Veterans Cemetery.

I'm very pleased that the Military Coalition—which represents 34 military, veterans, and uniformed services organizations, totaling nearly 5.5 million members—and the National Military Veterans Alliance—which represents 3.5 million members—as well as the American Legion, the Military Officer's Association of America, and others have written endorsement letters or passed resolutions supporting this legislation. Millions of current and former service members and dozens of service organizations have spoken. They all agree. We must do the right thing for Clark Veterans Cemetery. Madam Chair, I would ask that these letters be submitted for the record.

The American veterans buried in Clark Veterans Cemetery deserve a dignified and well-maintained final resting place. There is no reason that the brave service members buried at Clark should be deprived of the honor they have earned and that veterans at other cemeteries are afforded. It's time for the United States government to fulfill its responsibility to care for this sacred ground.

Again, I would like to thank you, Madam Chair and Ranking Member Burr, for agreeing to hold this hearing. I am optimistic that we can move forward on this legislation and ensure the U.S. government fulfills its responsibility to honor the final resting ground of those who have sacrificed and made the ultimate sacrifice, many of them, for our country.

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