Editorials

Allow veterans groups to use national cemetery

Concepcion Leon of Worrell Contracting Co. of LaGrange, N.C., makes sure one of the headstones is level Wednesday morning at Beaufort National Cemetery. Calvin Chaplain, site supervisor, said they are aligning the stones, which lean to one side or another over time.
Concepcion Leon of Worrell Contracting Co. of LaGrange, N.C., makes sure one of the headstones is level Wednesday morning at Beaufort National Cemetery. Calvin Chaplain, site supervisor, said they are aligning the stones, which lean to one side or another over time. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazette

The snubbing of members of a local veterans organization must be addressed to avoid a repeat.

Members of Chapter 12 of the Disabled American Veterans raised $10,500 to help expand the Beaufort National Cemetery, one of the first national cemeteries established in 1863.

The group had planned a program in the park-like cemetery last Tuesday during which it would hand over the check. But members and guests were turned away by cemetery officials because the group failed to formally submit and gain approval for the ceremony in advance.

"This is a (Veterans Affairs) national cemetery," said Jeff Teas, acting director for the cemetery. "You can't just have someone walk in and have a ceremony."

Since the ceremony was put on by a private organization that does not have an agreement with Veterans Affairs, Teas speculates that it would probably not have been authorized anyhow.

That's absurd. The donation and accompanying ceremony shows the strong grass-roots sense of urgency to expand the burial grounds in the one and only way it can expand until it is forever filled.

And while members of the organization may not have any formal agreement wit Veterans Affairs, the agency doesn't hold the patent on patriotism. Could there be anything more patriotic than these wounded veterans raising money for this worthy expansion project during their free time?

As many as 400 burials take place annually at the site. But space is running out. A committee is seeking donations to purchase five acres just north of the current cemetery for an expansion that would create enough room through 2050.

The rebuffing of the vets has left Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling furious. "It's a sad day when you have veterans raise money, and they can't even take a picture of them passing a check from one group to another," he said.

U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn and Mark Sanford, who represent parts of Beaufort County, should get mad too and coax the VA into allowing such ceremonies that clearly honor veterans -- even those involving private organizations not affiliated with the VA.

And U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Lexington County should play a role too and make amends for blocking a previous deal to buy the land.

The 5-acre tract, the last land adjacent to the cemetery, is home to an aging affordable housing complex. The owner was willing to sell in 2008, and preferred that it go to the cemetery. So the committee sought a $3.2 million earmark in the 2009 federal budget for the land.

But Wilson would not pursue it based on his belief that earmarks are an irresponsible way to conduct government.

Perhaps even more egregious is shunning veterans, working to secure space for their fellow vets in one of Beaufort's most hallowed locations.

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