POSTED: 4:18 a.m. HST, Jul 5, 2012
MANILA, Philippines >> American war veterans in the Philippines are urging the U.S. Congress to pass a bill that would require Washington to repair and maintain a cemetery north of Manila where the graves of thousands of American servicemen and dependents have been covered in ash since a 1991 volcanic eruption.
The head of an American veterans' group, Retired Army 1st Sgt. John Gilbert, said Wednesday that the neglect of Clark Veterans' Cemetery is a disgrace to the memory of more than 8,000 U.S. servicemen and their dependents who are buried there.
The U.S. Air Force hastily abandoned Clark Air Base, where the cemetery is located, after Mount Pinatubo's eruption. In 1994, American veterans were shocked to find the 17-acre cemetery had become an ash-covered jungle of weeds, overgrown grass and debris with half of its old steel fence looted. They cleaned up the graves and have since struggled to maintain the cemetery through volunteer work and donations. Although the cemetery looks tidier today, about a foot of ash still covers it, partially burying tombstones and obscuring names, dates and epitaphs.
As America marked Independence Day, the U.S. veterans renewed their calls for Washington to fund and take charge of the cemetery's upkeep and for U.S. lawmakers to pass recently proposed legislation requiring a U.S. agency, the American Battle Monuments Commission, to manage it.
The "Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act," which was introduced by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, has received the backing of several other senators.
"We have a solemn obligation to care for our fallen," said Gilbert, whose group includes hundreds of American veterans who have settled in villages outside the former Clark Air Base. "That is not happening in the case of the Clark Veterans' cemetery."