During a legislative mark-up on Wednesday, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee approved legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mark Begich (D-AK), aimed at restoring the Clark Veterans Cemetery, which is the final resting place in the Philippines for more than 8,300 U.S. service members and their dependents. Following a volcanic eruption in 1991, the U.S. abandoned Clark Air Force Base, leaving the cemetery covered in ash and overgrown by weeds.
"The U.S. government has a moral responsibility to care for veterans cemeteries that honor those who have bravely served our country," said Senator Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The American veterans buried in Clark Veterans Cemetery deserve a dignified and well-maintained final resting place, and it's time for the U.S. to fulfill its responsibility to care for this sacred ground."
Since 1994, volunteers in the Philippines have attempted to maintain the cemetery without assistance from the U.S. government. The Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act (S. 2320), which has 15 bipartisan cosponsors, would require the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to restore, operate, and maintain Clark Veterans Cemetery to honor the courageous Americans buried there.
The American Battle Monuments Commission is an independent agency of the U.S. government charged with managing overseas cemeteries and monuments. Because Clark Veterans Cemetery is a permanent American cemetery in a foreign country, ABMC is the appropriate federal agency to oversee the cemetery's management and maintenance. In addition to cemeteries and monuments in Europe, the ABMC also maintains Mexico City National Cemetery in Mexico and Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, both of which are similar to the Clark Veterans Cemetery.
During the Senate Armed Services Committee's consideration of the 2013 defense authorization bill, Senator Ayotte successfully included an amendment to help ensure that no cemetery will be neglected the way Clark Veterans Cemetery was following the Air Force's departure from Clark Air Force Base. Senator Ayotte's amendment would require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report no later than 30 days after the closure of any overseas U.S. military base that details a plan to ensure that an appropriate federal agency or private entity assumes responsibility for continued maintenance and oversight of the cemetery located on the base.