The recent death of a decorated World War II veteran and supporter of Beaufort National Cemetery has prompted U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson to revisit a bill he filed about a year ago to expand the burial ground.
Wilson, a Republican whose congressional district includes Beaufort County, introduced H.R. 217 last year. The bill calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase five acres now occupied by Lafayette Square apartments at 2200 Lafayette St. for about $3 million.
The bill is backed by the Veterans Cemetery Committee of Beaufort, a panel of retired military officials who favor expanding the cemetery, which has burial space through 2030. That committee was chaired by Col. Jimmie Leach, 87, a Lady's Island resident and five-time recipient of the Purple Heart who died Dec. 17.
The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, where it remains, according to the Library of Congress.
Wilson said Leach's death inspired him to push harder for the bill's passage.
"I would love to (get the bill passed) as a testament to (Leach)," Wilson said Wednesday. "It would be such a fitting tribute because it was a cause that meant so much to him. (Leach's) death really brought to mind that I need to do whatever I can to promote the purchase of that property adjacent to the cemetery."
More than 19,000 service members and their families from every American conflict are buried in Beaufort, including Leach.
"There was no question in my mind where Dad should be buried, as he worked so hard on getting (cemetery expansion)," son Jamie Leach said. "Honoring fallen and fellow soldiers was always a high priority with him. Dad felt that he could have done more to recognize his soldiers during (World War II) and he fought to set that straight."
Wilson said he plans to work with the members of the Veterans Affairs Committee, namely Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., to free the bill from committee and send to the House floor for a vote before November's mid-term election.
Wilson said he has always felt the bill represented a worthwhile undertaking.
"This is something that needs to be done before this property is developed in another way," Wilson said. "The merit of this is so clear to me."