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Frustration grows in Mare Island Cemetery fix

Times-Herald - 9/26/2018

Sept. 26--Frustration is growing among proponents of a year-plus-long effort to get the U.S. Veterans Administration to take over the repair and upkeep of the west's oldest military cemetery --Vallejo's Mare Island Naval Cemetery.

Saying this fight has become personal, was retired U.S. Navy Capt. Ralph Parrott, whose random day trip to Mare Island sparked the effort to rescue the deteriorating graveyard. Parrott said despite buy-in from many local and state legislators who agree the V.A. is the appropriate agency to oversee it, the V.A. itself is pushing back. Its officials are reportedly saying that an IRT program for which the site may qualify, will solve the problem; a conclusion with which Parrott and others strongly disagree.

The Defense Department's Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program is designed to provide training for reserve forces while also bettering local communities through medical or engineering support, the government says.

"The V.A. has consistently lied about this project being a solution to the problem," Parrott said in an email distributed to those interested in and/or helping with the effort to rescue the cemetery, which is the final resting place of more than 800 souls, including three Medal of Honor recipients. "We are probably not going to get the legislation passed because of their lies. I want to be able to expose their lies when we take up the fight in the nest session of Congress."

Local effort champion and retired U.S. Army Col. Nestor Aliga is also annoyed and also has no intention of surrendering.

"Note that this is only "to begin planning initial repairs," Aliga says in an email. "The work would likely begin in late 2019, 'subject to the availability of the IRT unit, further cost negotiations with the city, and other necessary advance work, including environmental reviews.' In other words, this IRT project is not yet fully approved to be executed."

Aliga said it is hoped that the Mare Island-based 374th Engineer Company and/or 801st Engineer Company, "will be willing, ie., their operational tempo or deployments will not interfere, and are able, ie., they have the right TOE --Table of Organization (personnel with the right Military Occupational Specialties) and Equipment (earthmovers, etc.) to do the entire project."

The Reserves companies could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

The cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, "so we are also hoping that both the Veterans Affairs and National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior will also provide on-site expert support to insure that we all abide by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 --which require a greater level of preservation diligence," Aliga added.

Aliga said that 59 Democrats and 15 Republicans are so far co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Thompson's H.R. 5588 bill, which seeks to assign the site to the VA, while only seven Democrats and no Republicans are cosponsoring Sen. Dianne Feinstein's companion bill, S.2881.

"I find these low figures as shockingly contrary to campaign speeches of most representatives and senators that they truly support our Veterans and our fallen heroes," he said. "Among California's 53 Representatives, only 29 have co-sponsored --so we still need all voters in California, as well as nationwide, to contact their representatives. We've made this lobbying process as easy as possible; voters can simply go to https://www.votervoice.net/NavyLeague/Campaigns/59972/Respond (website is pasted at bottom) Or via https://www.house.gov/representatives#state-california"

For the record, Aliga wanted to acknowledge the work done by Jimi Shaughnessy "and all the volunteers from The Mission Continues and the San Francisco 1st Service Platoon for doing extensive general grounds maintenance on Sept. 15."

Thompson, too, vows to fight on.

"The Department of Defense intends to send a unit out to begin repair work on the Mare Island Cemetery in either late 2019 or early 2020, depending on availability," he said in an email. "They will repair or replace the damaged drainage system and fencing, and install a flagpole. While I applaud the Defense Department for taking this important step, the IRT program does not provide for long-term maintenance of this historic site. That's why I am continuing to fight for my bill to transfer control of the cemetery to the VA, which would ensure that the Mare Island cemetery is properly maintained in future years. Though I am frustrated the Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee have yet to take action, I continue to advocate to them for this bill, including urging them to hold a hearing on this bill as soon as possible."


(c)2018 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)

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