AVON — Located just on the outskirts of Angeles City in the Philippines sets the resting place of more than 8,600 U.S. servicemen and women who served in the military dating all the way back to the Civil War, as well as some of their dependents.
Eleven-year-old Avon resident Nathaniel Beeler wants those resting places need to be kept in order. He’s so passionate about it, in fact, that he took his plea to Washington, D.C., and has support from Republicans U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, Sen. Richard Lugar, and Sen. Dan Coats, among others.
“This is very important to me, because there are veterans who died and fought very bravely for our freedom, and it ruins the vision of how the U.S. treats their war heroes when they die, just to be buried in ash,” Nathaniel said. “That was the motivation why it’s so important.”
Josh Britton, communications director for Rokita, said, “Congressman Rokita has had a couple of good meetings with Nathaniel, one at his July 4 event in Brownsburg and one at his office in D.C. Nathaniel is obviously a sharp, hard-working young man who has made a good case for this bill that he cares about very much. Rep. Rokita agrees that we need to honor our veterans and would support the maintenance of the cemetery, should legislation come to the House floor, provided that any new costs are offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.”
The U.S. left Clark Air Force Base in 1991, but there was no government provision that accounted for long-term care of the historic American cemetery there. As such, it was left abandoned.
Dennis Wright, who lives in the Philippines and served 33 years in the U.S. Navy before retiring as a captain, said Beeler’s mission should be supported by all.
“What also makes Nathan so unique is that he walks the talk,” Wright said. “He didn’t just sit back and talk about it. He got out on his weekends, in the heat, on his own time, sacrificing to get a thousand signatures on a petition, write letters, visit groups, and walk the halls of Congress. Millions want Congress to act. There are 8,600 veterans and their dependents who were abandoned and forgotten.”
Wright formed the non-profit Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration with the purpose of educating Americans to get the U.S. Government to take control of the cemetery again. Coupled with the VFW Post 2485 in the Philippines, the non-profit agency provides security to stop vandals and looters and has tried to upkeep the cemetery on what is about a $25,000 per year budget. Wright said that is woefully short of what’s needed.
Kim Beeler, Nathaniel’s mother, said her son’s interest in World War II led him to learn about the cemetery over a year ago.
“This is really important, and we need public pressure so the public will come out against the whole issue and say that we need to fix this,” she added.
The proposed Senate bill, titled S2320, Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act, was introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, directing the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) to assume responsibility of the cemetery.
“There is clearly no good reason for any of them not to support it,” Wright said. “There isn’t really a budget impact considering that with the low cost of labor in the Philippines ($300 per month), the local VFW spends $25,000 per year out of pocket.”
The House Bill is HR 4168, Preserve Clark AFB Military Cemetery.
Beeler’s efforts have not been in vain.
“What I’ve heard a lot about bills is when you’re hearing a bill, you need at least 20 or more co-sponsoring and you’ll be pretty good to go,” Nathaniel said. “We’re getting pretty close.”
There are 16 senators in a bi-partisan effort who have either sponsored or co-sponsored S2320 for the ABMC to assume responsibility, and the House has a comparable number, according to both Nathaniel and Wright.
“Clearly there are good elected officials, Sen. Ayotte and (D-Sen. Mark) Begich (of Alaska) who introduced the Senate Bill and Congressman Frank Guinta (R-New Hampshire), who introduced the House Bill and those that have signed on, but what about the other 500?” Wright asked. “It’s just hard to explain. Especially since every major military and veteran association has come out in support with their combined 10 million-plus members, the Military Coalition, the National Military and Veterans Alliance, and national resolutions from the American Legion and VFW.”
Wright and the Beelers hope the timing of this will allow Congress to put it in the forefront of their minds when they return from their respective recesses. The Senate recess runs through Sept. 7, while the House recess runs through Sept. 9.
“We’re mainly focusing on the Senate bill,” Nathaniel explained. “The House bill was changed to conduct a study, so the Senate bill is pretty much the surviving bill that hasn’t been altered. If they want to change stuff to the House bill, it could happen because anything’s possible, but if it was changed to just conducting a study, it will be talked about a lot more rather than to just maintain it little by little, step by step.”
In addition, Wright says that the ABMC already has a reasonable presence in the area that would allow them to take care of the cemetery. He said it also manages a large military cemetery in Manila, 90 minutes south, and the Cabanatuan POW Memorial, 90 minutes north.
For Nathaniel, who aspires to become a marine aviator one day, said the cause was more than worth the trek to Washington, D.C., even though he admitted to having to fight back nerves when speaking to some of the most powerful government officials in the world.
“It was a lot of fun speaking with the Congressmen, but the thing I really learned is that when you’re speaking to government officials, you don’t want to be tense or you’ll lose a lot of your thoughts, so when I was talking to them I didn’t want to get too tense and I wanted to answer the questions they had,” he said. “A lot of them sounded supportive of this legislation. To me, it was a great success.”
Wright is hopeful, but has a different take on why nothing has been done to this point.
“Clearly, many in Congress have embraced the initiative, however many others seem oblivious,” he said. “Perhaps because they get distracted so easily looking at sound bites playing bi-partisan politics. There is clearly no good reason for any of them to not support it. The Senate unanimously passed by voice vote, Senate Resolution 481, which among other things, stipulated that after close consultation with the government of the Philippines, the United States government should designate an appropriate United States entity to be responsible for making necessary arrangements to ensure ongoing maintenance of Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines. I am confident that once they know the facts, they will make the right decision.”
Philippine officials have said they will allow any U.S. agency to maintain the 17-acre cemetery.
“We just look after our vets,” Wright said. “Especially those that ‘served with honor,’ which is the motto of the cemetery and on the cemetery’s crest.”
For more information about the Clark Veterans’ Cemetery restoration or bill S2320, visit the website at cvcra.org. A YouTube video depicting the trials and tribulations of the cemetery has also garnered awareness for the bill, and those interested can visit the site and type in “Two Sons, One Cause, Restore Clark Veterans Cemetery.”