Petition to restore abandoned Naval cemetery grabs the VA's attention

Matt Saintsing
February 26, 2018 - 2:26 pm
fence

Photo Courtesy of Ralph Peters

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A petition to transfer an abandoned Naval cemetery in Northern California to the VA, which gathered more than 1,700 signatures, has gotten response from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

Posted on Feb. 11 by Vallejo resident Nestor Aliga, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, the petition calls the Mare Island Naval Cemetery a “national shrine,” but chastises “its deplorable condition is a shocking disgrace to the honorable service, uncommon valor, and selfless sacrifice of our courageous Veterans buried there.”

In response, the NCA penned an op-ed in the Vallejo Times-Herald in support for refurbishment, but not assuming responsibility of the crumbling cemetery.  

“In response to concerns recently raised about the conditions of the cemetery, NCA and the Navy assisted the City of Vallejo in preparing an application for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Innovating Readiness Training Program where military funds and manpower may be used for the restoration of this cemetery,” the NCA wrote.

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Photo Courtesy of Ralph Peters

The Innovating Readiness Training Program (IRT) would most likely comprise of a team of U.S. Navy “Seabees,” an engineering and construction unit who could fix some of the structural issues of the site including replacing headstones. 

“If this project is approved, DoD would match a military department/unit with the project and work would start in Fiscal Year ’19.”

The 166-year old Mare Island Naval Shipyard was the first permanent U.S. Naval installation on the Pacific Coast. A 1993 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round closed the shipyard, and in 1996 Naval operations ceased and the facility and adjacent cemetery was transferred initially to the state of California, and later to the city of Vallejo.

Vallejo, a city with more than 100,000 residents, filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and has been able to provide limited upkeep on the dilapidated cemetery, such as preening overgrown acacia trees.

But, the extensive damage requires more care and maintenance local volunteers could provide.

Headstones of veterans, many of which were killed while working at the shipyard, are crumbling. Fences are broken and some of the gates need repair.

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Photo Courtesy of Ralph Peters

While the city has been unable to provide the required maintenance, concerned Bay Area veterans and advocates has organized a National Day of Service last September to provide the space with some much needed aesthetic beautification.

With the site having historical significance, however, the volunteers were not permitted to fix the shattered headstones.

The Administration has worked directly with Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan on the applications, and has offered assistance in “replacing government headstones, as it would for any cemetery where veterans are buried.”

"The IRT project and the question of the NCA taking over are independent but complimentary subjects,” said Ralph Parrott, a retired U.S. Navy Captain who has worked tirelessly to get the VA to assume responsibility of the cemetery.

“IRT makes no provision for perpetual care whereas the NCA taking over will ensure perpetual care. The IRT project actually compliments the NCA ownership because it will accomplish a lot of the work the NCA would have to perform anyway.”

While the petition calls on the NCA to assume responsibility of the cemetery, the NCA says the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery “served veterans and families in the northern bay area with in ground and above burial options.”

The NCA also said they will be expanding burial service to Bay-area vets with a new columbaria-only urban cemetery at the alameda Point National Cemetery.