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Mr. ASPINALL. I have a question, Mr. Chairman. How many veterans cemeteries do you have in New England!
Mr. PEDONTI. We have approximately 22 cemeteries in the city of Boston, and right outside of the city of Boston, called the suburbs, but we have a cemetery called Mount Hope Cemetery which is maintained by the cemetery division of the city of Boston, where the city of Boston has allocated various lots. We have two Civil War lots, we have one Spanish War lot, we have one World War I lot, we have a World War I extension lot, we have a World War II lot, and we have a Korean lot. And within that respective cemetery, we have many individual privately owned graves that were purchased by the next of kin.
But I would say right here, Mr. Chairman, and honorable members, that within 2 years the space in our respective lots will be exhausted because of the lack of space.
Mr. ASPINALL. That does not get to the subject I have in mind. There are no national cemeteries in New England ?
Mr. PEDONTI. That is right.
Mr. ASPINALL. As I understand, there are some veterans cemeteries that are perhaps controlled and operated by the various States or agencies of the States; is that correct? Am I correct in my understanding?
Mr. PEDONTI. Sir, there are lots that are set aside by the cities and towns.
Mr. ASPINALL. That is what I understood you to say just now. But there are no individual veterans cemeteries or individual State cemeteries!
Mr. PEDONTI. No.
There being no further questions from the committee, thank you, sir. You are excused from the witness table.
Mr. PEDONTI. Thank you.
Mr. RUTHERFORD. The next witness is Mr. F. W. Stover, legislative representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
STATEMENT OF FRANCIS W. STOVER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGIS
LATIVE SERVICE, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES
Mr. STOVER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.
Mr. SAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, before the gentleman proceeds, I would just like to inform the gentleman that the pressure this time will not be as great as the last time he appeared before the committee.
Mr. STOVER. Thank you, sir. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee: May I first extend the deep appreciation and thanks of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for the privilege of appearing here today to present our views concerning this most important legislation. My name is Francis W. Stover and my title is national legislative director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
Presently the Veterans of Foreign Wars has approximately 1,300,000 members located in 8,500 posts in every State in the Union. All of our members have served overseas, or in combat for which service a campaign badge or medal has been issued.
VFW NATIONAL POLICIES
The national position of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is formulated each year at our annual national convention. Year after year there are many resolutions adopted urging the Congress to establish a national cemetery at a specific location. These resolutions reflect the needs of veterans in a State, or area of a State. Each Congress, bills have been introduced to have cemeteries either established or expanded pursuant to these national resolutions. Few since World War II have ever been approved and enacted into law.
With this continuous and conspicuous absence of success for most years, our organization decided on a new course of action. At our most recent national convention, which was held in Miami Beach, Fla., all resolutions pertaining to the establishment or expansion of national cemeteries were merged into a single resolution identified as No. 245, entitled "Support Senate Resolution No. 113–National Cemeteries." This Senate resolution was then pending, and is still pending, over in the Senate in the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. It was the consensus of the national convention committee that had jurisdiction over the establishment of national cemeteries that probably the best solution would be to endorse this particular resolution. I realize you do not have this resolution before this committee, but, very
briefly, it calls for a study of the national cemetery system so that the Congress will establish a uniform national policy. Naturally, the VFW is delighted that this hearing is going forward, because this is right in line with our resolution.
The VFW resolution passed at the convention reads as follows: Whereas the Veterans of Foreign Wars has been cognizant of the need of new or the expansion of present national cemeteries; and
Whereas resolutions for the establishment of new or expansion of present national cemeteries have been introduced by numerous departments each year for consideration at our national convention; and
Whereas the majority of those resolutions either urge a new or expansion of a present national cemetery in the respective States of the departments; and
Whereas since the majority of Representatives and Senators consider the establishment or expansion of national cemeteries a matter of local interest, it has been, and is difficult to gain the support and interest of sufficient members of Congress to enact such legislation; and
Whereas there has been introduced in the 87th Congress, “Senate Resolution 113" which provides for an investigation and complete study of any and all matters pertaining to national cemeteries with a view to establishing and effectuating a uniform national policy with respect to the establishing and maintaining of such national cementeries: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the 62d National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That we support, and urge, the passage of Senate Resolution 113 so that a uniform national policy, will be established with respect to the establishment and expansion of national cemeteries' for the burial of wartime veterans.
This resolution, Senate Resolution 113, represents the official position of the Veterans of Foreign Wars concerning the national cemetery system. Our last national convention approved this resolu
tion in the belief that some type of national policy is a prerequisite before Congress will go forward with respect to a specific cemetery.
LACK OF UNIFORMITY IN PRESENT SYSTEM
Indicative of the lack of uniformity in administering the national cemetery system is the fact that there are presently four different Government agencies caring for national cemeteries.
There are a total of 91 national cemeteries, with 77 still having available space. These cemeteries are under the supervision of the Department of the Army.
Another 13 cemeteries which are closed for burials are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.
Overseas, there are & World War I cemeteries, 15 World War II cemeteries, and 2 memorials scattered all over the world, which are under the jurisdiction of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
These oversea cemeteries, I think, do conform to certain standards. Those cemeteries, I believe, are all closed. I hope that we never have to open any of them again.
There are available 17 Federal cemeteries, maintained by the Veterans' Administration, where the veteran may be buried if the veteran dies while in a VA facility.
Apparently all of these different agencies having jurisdiction over these cemeteries was a hit-or-miss proposition. So far as can be determined, there is a certain attrition setting in which is filling these cemeteries up, and eventually they will all close out.
So far as can be determined, there is presently no congressional policy with respect to the establishment of new cemeteries or the enlargement of these existing cemeteries. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is urging a complete study of this program with the hope that such a study will promulgate a national policy, including standards governing the size, location, appearance, and maintenance of these cemeteries. Some of this, I understand, is being done by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
FAVORED BY CONGRESS FOR OVER A CENTURY
It is obvious therefore, that for over a 100 years there has been a national policy of providing burial space for the veterans of the Nation when requested by the veteran. From time to time, Congress has reaffirmed this policy by authorizing the establishment or enlargement of cemeteries. It is one of the oldest benefits available to a veteran. The Congress, therefore, has reaffirmed its approval of this program for over a century. The most important question before this committee is whether or
not the Congress will permit this benefit to lapse. The Veterans of Foreign Wars suggests this privilege is so long standing many look upon it as a right.
NOT AN INFRINGEMENT ON RELIGION
One of the frequent objections to national cemeteries is that our national cemetery system infringes upon the religious practices of all veterans. The Veterans of Foreign Wars holds that the burial of a veteran in a national cemetery is a matter coming within the individual
conscience of each veteran and is a voluntary act upon his part. It is our conviction that religious requirements is one of the principal reasons why the majority of veterans will not avail themselves of the right to be buried in a national cemetery. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is speaking for those veterans who believe that burial in a national cemetery will not in any way contravene or conflict with their religious practices and beliefs.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars is composed of veterans of all religious beliefs, and there were no objections I know of raised at our national convention concerning this or other resolutions with respect to national cemeteries.
HOW MANY WILL USE NATIONAL CEMETERIES
Estimates are that more than 40 million Americans are presently eligible for burial in national cemeteries. This may be true. However, those with certain religious convictions, those who want to be buried in their hometown areas, certain fraternal orders, and for many, many other reasons, millions of veterans and their families have not and never will avail themselves of the right to be buried in a national cemetery.
Disregarding this large group there still will be a very sizable number of veterans who prefer to be buried in a national cemetery within a reasonable distance from their homes. While it is not possible to make an educated guess, it seems fair to state that the figure of 40 million is, on its face much too large. What we are actually talking about is a proportionally small number of veterans.
The Department of the Army and other governmental agencies have used the arbitrary mileage of 50-mile radius as to the maximum distance a national cemetery should be located from a population center. While this figure may have been very valid some year ago, it seems that with the new highway system and the sweeping changes in our society that the 50-mile radius is outdated.
Even in large metropolitan areas it takes only a very short time to travel distances much greater than 50 miles. Part of this, of course, has been made possible by the tremendous highway building, including the Federal interstate highway program, more of which is being completed each year.
Consequently, the Veterans of Foreign Wars holds that cemeteries can be built at much greater distances from metropolitan areas than in previous years. If this is done then the cost of land alone will be far less. Additionally, there are Government-owned lands and reservations which would be available without additional cost to the Government in many States if this 50-mile radius yardstick were reviewed and brought up to date.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars is delighted that the Arlington National Cemetery here in our Nation's Capital can be expanded. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is conversely extremely disappointed that the administration has taken the position that any other expansion of these cemeteries it not in accord with the program of the President.
One of the reasons assigned for not expanding the national cemetery system with the exception of Arlington is the discriminatory features of having just a few cemeteries which are conveniently accessible to only a few veterans. The inference is that the majority of veterans would not be close enough to one of these national cemeteries to avail themselves of the right or burial therein. It is suggested that with the right of any veteran to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery that there may be many who feel that keeping this cemetery open and closing all others will in itself be a form of discrimination to all other veterans who want to be buried closer to home.
Arlington National Cemetery, of course, is a cemetery that is favored by most veterans, or at least a majority of the veterans who want to be buried in a national cemetery, and many of these veterans come from long distances to be buried in this cemetery.
I submit that, if there were several other cemeteries located in conveniently accessible areas throughout the United States, maybe there might be just as strong a desire for veterans to be buried in these regional ones, or in areas near their regions, as there is presently for Arlington National Cemetery.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars does not have any information upon which to make a specific recommendation. However, the Veterans of Foreign Wars holds that the present cemetery system is inadequate. It is further submitted that there should be additions to present cemeteries and new ones established. It is the hope of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that a study similar to the proposal in S. Res. 113 be undertaken by the Congress for the purpose of accumulating sufficient data and information upon which to continue and expand our national cemetery system. Standards should be established concerning the size, appearance, location, and maintenance of these cemeteries.
I think what we are talking about, or may have had in mind, are the cemeteries overseas. They are all very impressive. Everybody I have talked to who has visited them over in Europe and some on the other side, Hawaii and further on, have all been deeply impressed.
It is submitted that a relatively small proportion of the veterans will avail themselves of this privilege to be buried in a national cemetery.
In conclusion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars hopes and urges this subcommittee to continue this system that has been in effect for approximately a hundred years, and we see no reason why it should be allowed to lapse because of inaction by the Congress.
It is hoped this subcommittee and the full committee will favorably consider the views of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and take affirmative action as suggested.
Again my deep appreciation for the privilege of appearing here this date before this distinguished subcommittee.
I want to state this: What S. Res. 113 proposes is what this committee is now in the process of doing.
Mr. STOVER. Right.