Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Forgotten Cemetery

A private guard walks along soil-covered grave markers at Clark Veterans Cemetery at the sprawling Clark Economic Zone, a former U.S. Air Force base in Dau, Pampanga province in northern Philippines, in this July 1, 2011 photo

You can tell a lot about a nation by the way she treats her military veterans. Sadly, we have a huge problem with homeless veterans. We have a hard-to-navigate Veteran's Administration with a bloated bureaucracy that may or may not be more expensive to get medical care from than if paying for it privately. I've heard some swear by VA healthcare and some swear at it. And now the VA cemetery in San Antonio wants people to stop saying "God Bless you" to families there for funerals? What kind of crap is this? One of my friends in the Army, Denis V. Silvas, is buried in that cemetery and I swear I can hear Denis rolling over this absurdity.

And now, just the other day, I read the following article at the FoxNews website about the military cemetery at the former Clark Air Base in the Phillippines. The Feds don't want to pony up any funds to help maintain the cemetery...too busy flying Obama to his next golf game or vacation, I guess. Most of the grave markers have been half-buried for up to 20 years....

CLARK, Philippines – Walking along the rows of tombstones here offers a glimpse of the wars America has fought and the men and women who waged them. But most of the grave markers have been half-buried for 20 years, and there is little hope that the volcanic ash obscuring names, dates and epitaphs will be cleared any time soon.

Clark Veterans Cemetery was consigned to oblivion in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo's gigantic eruption forced the U.S. to abandon the sprawling air base surrounding it. Retired U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors volunteer to keep watch, relying on donations to try to maintain the grounds, but they lament that they're helplessly short on funds to fix things, and that Washington is unwilling to help.

"It's the veterans' cemetery that America forgot," Vietnam War veteran and former Navy officer Robert Chesko said.

As America marks Independence Day, the U.S. veterans who collect funds to care for the cemetery renewed their calls for Washington to fund and take charge of the work.

Workers at the cemetery north of Manila recently dug to fully expose a gravestone for an Army sergeant who died in World War II in the Philippines. They discovered his wife's name engraved under his and a long-hidden tribute: "Daughter, sister, wife and mother of veterans."

It's impossible to say what else remains hidden at the 17-acre (seven-hectare) cemetery. It holds the remains of 8,600 people, including 2,200 American veterans and nearly 700 allied Philippine Scouts who saw battle in conflicts from the early 1900s to the resistance against brutal Japanese occupation troops in WWII.

Clark's dead also include military dependents, civilians who worked for the U.S. wartime government and at least 2,139 mostly unidentified soldiers whose marble tombstones are labeled "Unknown."

"People celebrate on the Fourth of July but they forgot the 8,600 who helped make that freedom happen," said former Navy Capt. Dennis Wright, who saw action in Vietnam and is now a business executive.

"We're trying to get the U.S. government to assume responsibility for maintaining the cemetery so we can get it up to standards ... not on nickels and dimes and donations and gifts," said retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Larry Heilhecker, who served as cemetery caretaker for five years until last month.

Clark was a U.S. base for nearly a century and was once the largest American Air Force installation off the U.S. mainland. It served as a key staging area for U.S. forces during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The Clark cemetery, which can accommodate at least 12,000 remains, was developed between 1947 and 1950, when it was used to collect the remains and tombstones from four U.S. military cemeteries as American officials sorted out their dead from WWII and previous wars.

An American cemetery at the then-Fort McKinley in Manila became the exclusive burial ground for all Americans and allied Philippine Scouts who were killed in WWII combat. The 152-acre (61-hectare) Manila cemetery collected 17,202 dead, the largest number of American casualties interred in one place from the last world war.

Now closed to burials, the stunningly landscaped Manila cemetery became one of 24 American burial grounds outside the U.S. mainland. Nearly 125,000 Americans who perished in WWI and WWII and the Mexican War are interred in those U.S.-funded overseas cemeteries, regarded as among the most beautiful war memorials in the world. The overseas burial sites are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, or ABMC.

The dead at Clark are not limited to World War II casualties -- they date as far back as 1900. Also unlike the Manila cemetery, it continues to accept burials. One U.S. veteran who lives in the area had his son buried here after he was killed in Iraq in 2004. But Clark is not administered by the ABMC.

The Air Force managed Clark cemetery from 1947 to 1991, when it abruptly left after nearby Pinatubo roared back to life from a 500-year slumber. Even before the eruption, negotiations with the Philippine government for a new U.S. military lease on Clark had bogged down after nearly a century of presence in the Philippines, according to the veterans.

Philippine authorities failed to look after the cemetery. In 1994, American veterans were shocked to find it had become an ash-covered jungle of weeds, overgrown grass and debris. Half of its old steel fence had been looted.

Today, a pair of U.S. and Philippine flags flutter in the wind over the graves. A recently restored marble obelisk, pockmarked by World War II gun and artillery fire, venerates the unknown dead. A small sign at a new steel gate ushers in visitors with a tribute to the war dead: "Served with honor."

All the improvements came from donations. Wright's company spent $90,000 to construct a new concrete and steel fence and a parking lot and make other improvements. An old veteran, confined to a nursing home in Florida, sent one dollar in a touching act, Heilhecker said.

Retired U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Littleton John Fortune has been giving small amounts from his pension for the upkeep of the cemetery, where many of his friends lay. He said the worst day in his life came in 2004 when his son, a young Army sergeant, was killed by a bomb in Iraq. He buried his son at Clark and continues to help the cemetery.

Still, the Clark gravesites look forlorn compared to the American cemetery in Manila.
A U.S. government decision to take control of the Clark cemetery could shed light on the fate of still-missing Americans, Wright said, citing the case of a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Hershel Lee Covey, whose name is on a Clark cemetery tombstone that declared him as having died on July 17, 1942 in the Philippines.

A check by The Associated Press showed ABMC lists Covey as "missing in action or buried at sea."

Dashing the hopes of the American veterans, the ABMC and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which manages 131 U.S. mainland cemeteries through an agency, both said Clark was outside their mandate.

"Whether the U.S. government should take on responsibility for maintaining such a foreign, private cemetery is a veterans' benefits issue outside the scope of our authority," ABMC public affairs director Michael Conley told the AP in an e-mailed reply to questions.

U.S. Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas, who has visited the Clark cemetery twice, praised the American veterans for looking after the burial grounds, which he said volunteer embassy staff and visiting U.S. sailors have helped clean up. But he said the U.S. Congress only appropriates funds for official cemeteries overseas through the ABMC, Thomas said.

Philippine officials have authorized an American veterans' group led by Chesko to manage the Clark cemetery up to 2030, and have said they are open to allowing any U.S. agency to manage it.

"Without them, we wouldn't have this freedom now," said Felipe Antonio Remollo, president of the state-run Clark Development Corp., which oversees the former base, now an industrial and commercial hub.

Once developed and possibly turned into a war memorial, the cemetery could draw in tourists, Remollo said.

Clark's elderly veterans, some of whom become teary-eyed when reminiscing days with fallen comrades, worry about who will look after the cemetery as their ranks dwindle. Two passed away and were buried last week.

"We're getting old. We can feel it in our bones, you know, in mind and everything," said 65-year-old Chesko. He has wondered whether fallen soldiers' sacrifices still matter to young Americans.

"What bothers me sometimes is, will they still remember?" Chesko said.

The new cemetery caretaker, John Gilbert, said the veterans were not trying to pass the responsibility.

"We're proud to do it, don't get me wrong, but we do not have the resources to do it," said Gilbert. They would have no choice if Washington ignores their pleas, he said.

"We are not ready to let this cemetery be taken back by the jungle," he said. "If we have to do it ourselves, we will do it."

"We don't leave our brothers behind."

If you want to help, you can go to the Clark Veteran Cemetery Restoration Association's website here, and a special shout out to the guys from VFW Post 2485 who help maintain the cemetery.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Obama's Declaration of Independence

Written by Mark Steyn...

The self-reliant citizenry is history.

Dozens of countries have “Independence Days.” November 25th, for example: Independence Day in Suriname. In that instance as in most others, the designation signifies nothing more than transfer of de jure sovereignty and de facto operational control from a distant European capital to a more local regime. 1975 in Suriname’s case. They had the first military coup seven years later.

But in America “Independence” seemed as much a statement about the character of a
people as a designation of jurisdictional status. The first Americans were British subjects who had outgrown a British king as benign and enlightened as any ruler on the planet. They demanded “independence” not from foreign rulers of another ethnicity but from their own compatriots with whom they had a disagreement about the nature of government. Long before the Revolutionary War, small New England townships governed themselves to a degree no old England towns did.

“Independence” is not about the replacement of a king in
London with a president in Washington but about the republican virtues of a self-reliant citizenry free to exploit its own potential.

Please, no snickering. The self-reliant citizen? In the damning formulation of
contemporary American vernacular, he’s history — as in over and done with, fuhgeddabouttim. What’s left of that founding vision on this less than Glorious Fourth of July 2011 in the Brokest Nation in History? “You go talk to your constituents,” President Obama taunted Republicans on Wednesday, “and ask them, are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate-jet owner continues to get a tax break?”

In the Republic of Brokistan, that’s the choice, is it? Give me
safe kids or give me corporate jets! No corporate aviation without safe-kiddification! In his bizarre press conference on Wednesday, Obama made no fewer than six references to corporate-jet owners. Just for the record, the tax break for corporate jets was part of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” — i.e., the stimulus. The Obama stimulus. The Obama-Pelosi-Reid stimulus. The Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Democratic-party stimulus that every single Republican House member and all but three Republican senators voted against. The Obama–Corporate Jet stimulus that some guy called Obama ostentatiously signed into law in Denver after jetting in to host an “economic forum.”

Charles Krauthammer did the math. If you eliminate the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Corporate
Jet Tax Break, you would save so much dough that, after 5,000 years, you would have clawed back enough money to cover one year of Obama’s debt. Five thousand years is the year 7011. Boy, our kids’ll really be safe by then. I see some leftie at MSNBC has just been suspended for characterizing the president’s performance on Wednesday as that of a demotic synonym for the male reproductive organ. So I shall be more circumspect and say only that even being a hollow unprincipled demagogue requires a certain lightness of touch Obama can’t seem to find.

Speaking of corporate jets, did the president fly commercial to
Denver? Oh, but that’s different! He’s in “public service.” A couple of weeks before he flew Air Force One to Denver, he flew Air Force One to Williamsburg, Virginia... From the White House (well, via Andrews Air Force Base). That’s 150 miles, a 30-minute flight. He took a 747, a wide-bodied jet designed to carry 500 people to the other side of the planet, for a puddle-jump across the Potomac.

Oh, but it was for another
“economic forum.” This time with House Democrats — the ones who voted for the Obama Corporate Jet Tax Break. “Economic forums” are what we have instead of an economy these days.

Aside from the Sultan of Brunei and one or two similar
potentates, no other head of state goes around like this. In a self-governing republic, it ought to be unbecoming. But in the Brokest Nation in History it’s ridiculous. And the least the beneficiary of such decadence could do is not condescendingly lecture those who pay for their own transportation. America’s debt is an existential crisis, and playing shell games with shriveled peas of demonizable irrelevancies only advertises your contempt for the citizenry.

By the way, one way to cut back on corporate jettage
would be to restore civilized standards of behavior in American commercial flight. Two weeks ago, a wheelchair-bound 95-year-old woman at Northwest Florida Regional Airport flying to Michigan to be with her family for the final stage of her terminal leukemia was made to remove her adult diaper by the crack agents of the Transport Stupidity Administration. George III wouldn’t have done this to her.

Oh, c’mon, do you want to compromise your kids’
safety in order to give grope breaks to dying nonagenarians? A spokesgroper for the Transport Stupidity Administration explained that security procedures have to be “the same for everyone” — because it would be totally unreasonable to expect timeserving government bureaucrats to exercise individual human judgment. Oddly enough, it’s not “the same for everyone” if you’re Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi from Nigeria, who on June 24 got on a flight at JFK with a college ID and an expired boarding pass in somebody else’s name. Why, that slippery devil! If only he’d been three-quarters of a century older, in a wheelchair, and dying of leukemia, we’d have got him! He was arrested upon landing at LAX, and we’re now going to spend millions of dollars prosecuting him. Why? We should thank him for his invaluable exposé of America’s revolting security theater, and make him head of the TSA.

What else isn’t “the same for everyone”? A lot of things,
these days. The president has a point about “tax breaks.” We have too many. And on the scale of the present tax code that’s a dagger at the heart of one of the most basic principles of free societies — equality before the law. But, of course, the president is not opposed to exemptions and exceptions and special privileges on principle: After all, he’s issued — what is it now? — over a thousand “waivers” for his own Obamacare law. If you knew who to call in Washington, maybe you got one. If you didn’t, tough.

But that’s the point. Big Government on America’s
unprecedented money-no-object scale will always be profoundly wasteful (as on that Williamsburg flight), stupid (as at the TSA), and arbitrary (as in those waivers). But it’s not republican in any sense the Founders would recognize. If (like Obama) you’re a lifetime member of the government class, you can survive it. For the rest, it ought to be a source of shame to today’s Americans that this will be the first generation in U.S. history to bequeath its children the certainty of poorer, meaner lives — if not a broader decay into a fetid swamp divided between a well-connected Latin American–style elite enjoying their waivers and a vast downwardly mobile morass.

On Independence Day 2011, debt-ridden America is now
dependent, not on far-off kings but on global bond and currency markets, which fulfill the same role the cliff edge does in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. At some point, Wile looks down and realizes he’s outrun solid ground. You know what happens next.

That’s all, folks!