Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clark Veterans Cemetery, Angeles City, Philippines: Reality Check

The Clark Veteran's Cemetery, along with quite a bit more acreage around Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, got covered by volcanic ash in 1991, during a series of eruptions.

The Lemming is pretty sure that facts in the following Associated Press story are accurate - as far as they go. There's more going on than what AP apparently decided we should know, though.

'The Government Oughtta Do Something?

"U.S. Reportedly Ignoring Veterans' Graves in Philippines"
Associated Press, via (July 3, 2011)

"Walking along the rows of tombstones here offers a glimpse of the wars America has fought and the men and women who waged them. But most of the grave markers have been half-buried for 20 years, and there is little hope that the volcanic ash obscuring names, dates and epitaphs will be cleared any time soon.

"Clark Veterans Cemetery was consigned to oblivion in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo's gigantic eruption forced the U.S. to abandon the sprawling air base surrounding it. Retired U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors volunteer to keep watch, relying on donations to try to maintain the grounds, but they lament that they're helplessly short on funds to fix things, and that Washington is unwilling to help....

"... 'People celebrate on the Fourth of July but they forgot the 8,600 who helped make that freedom happen,' said former Navy Capt. Dennis Wright, who saw action in Vietnam and is now a business executive.

" 'We're trying to get the U.S. government to assume responsibility for maintaining the cemetery so we can get it up to standards ... not on nickels and dimes and donations and gifts,' said retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Larry Heilhecker, who served as cemetery caretaker for five years until last month...."

Should the United States government "assume responsibility for maintaining the cemetery?"

Ideally, in the Lemming's opinion, yes. The Lemming also thinks that the United States Congress, and every administration during the last half-century and more, has done a miserable job of mismanaging the government's finances.

With any luck, we won't have to auction off parts of the country to cover expenses. And that's almost another topic.

'It's the Fault of [insert villain]?'

The Lemming's been over this before: this isn't a political blog. The Lemming doesn't think that one party's always right, and that everybody who won't say so is stupid.

In this case, there's quite enough blame to go around.

The fact is that right now America's national government is in debt up to it's virtual eyeballs: and Congress is actually talking about discussing means of deliberating on a solution.

It's a start.

The financial situation being what it is, a smallish (17 acres) cemetery in the Philippines may not be really high on the list of priorities: for the American Congress, or for folks in the Philippines. Some of whom are buried in Clark Veterans Cemetery.

Besides dumping ash on Clark Veterans Cemetery, Mount Pinatubo's 1991 eruptions did more than a little damage to homes and businesses. The AP article quotes someone who recognizes the potential for tourism in connection with a revitalized (if that's the right word) Clark Veterans Cemetery.

But - right now, with Congress finally going to the trouble of appearing to be interested in fixing part of the federal government's financial mess? The Lemming doesn't think that the folks inside the beltway will be all that inclined to throw cash at Clark Veterans Cemetery.

Besides, there are other solutions.

And Now, a Little Sentiment

Since this sort of account customarily includes a certain amount of pathos, here's more from that article:

"...Workers at the cemetery north of Manila recently dug to fully expose a gravestone for an Army sergeant who died in World War II in the Philippines. They discovered his wife's name engraved under his and a long-hidden tribute: 'Daughter, sister, wife and mother of veterans.'

"It's impossible to say what else remains hidden at the 17-acre (seven-hectare) cemetery. It holds the remains of 8,600 people, including 2,200 American veterans and nearly 700 allied Philippine Scouts who saw battle in conflicts from the early 1900s to the resistance against brutal Japanese occupation troops in WWII...."
(Associated Press, via

Hey, there's nothing wrong with sentiment - particularly if it motivates a person to do something sensible.

like not giving money to some scam artist.

Charitable Contributions: Useful and Otherwise

Let's say there's this fellow in America: he reads about the plight of the cross-eyed mud hens of Piskalooska Point - both of which are, the Lemming assures you, quite fictional.

This fellow is, quite sensibly, concerned about environmental stuff. And, not quite so sensibly: Googles "Piskalooska Point cross eyed mud hens," clicks on the first link he sees, and uses his credit card to donate $10.00 USD.

Nothing wrong with Google, the Internet, credit cards, or charitable donations. And the Lemming's posted about being careful before:Bottom line? Giving to a bogus charity may make a person feel good - for a while - but that's about it.

Finding a charity that's not a scam? It's not all that hard, and the Lemming thinks it's worth the extra effort.

Now, about Clark Veteran's Cemetery, Philippines.

The Lemming found a very nice-looking website, right at the top of Google's list, written in coherent English. It looked like a nice place to suggest.

The Lemming did a little checking - pure routine, using a fairly high-profile WHOIS lookup service. That nice-looking website's URL was registered to a fellow with a very 'American' name, and a physical address - - - about halfway between the Philippines and the contiguous 48 states.

Names, Identities, and Getting a Grip

'American' name? Make that an 'Anglo' name. Not everybody whose name suggests ancestry in the United Kingdom is an American - quite a few live in the United Kingdom, for starters. And not all Americans are WASPs. Most of us aren't, by now, and that's another topic.

That website may be legitimate - and just happens to be run by someone with a name that's foreign to the continent where it's registered. Or, it may not be. The Lemming might be able to work out who and what's actually running that show - but that could take time.

Another quick search found that there's a VFW post (VFW Post 2485, Angeles City, Philippines They're actively maintaining the Clark Veterans Cemetery, and willing to accept donations to help them get the job done.

They're also not mentioned in the AP article. Understandably, since VFW Post 2485, Angeles City, Philippines is apparently
  • Trying to restore and maintain the cemetery themselves
  • Not waiting until a government agency spends money
  • Quite willing to accept financial help
    • From folks who aren't from the government
The Lemming checked - the person who registered VFW Post 2485's URL is with Post 2485, and the registration contact information matches Post 2485's. Looks like VFW Post 2485 exists, runs the website in question, and is actually doing something about Clark Veterans Cemetery.

So, does the Lemming think you have to give them money? That's up to you. Before you do, check them out yourselves. Just a suggestion, of course.

Now, a few pages at VFW Post 2485's website:Not-entirely-unrelated posts:


Brigid said...

I'd like to know how much ash fell. If it was enough to completely hide the headstones, I'm not at all surprised that the USA government hasn't requisitioned funds for its restorations.

Frankly, there are more important things to worry about. And the folks buried there certainly aren't going to be disturbed by a few extra tons of ground-cover on top of their graves.

Brian Gill said...


It's a bit difficult to tell just how much ash is on that particular plot of land.

One clue is this excerpt: "Workers at the cemetery north of Manila recently dug to fully expose a gravestone...." That might imply that the ash was deep enough to obscure part of the headstone, but not all. That might, assuming the gravestones/markers to be similar to what's customary in the Upper Midwest (a big assumption), that the ash is somewhere between a fraction of an inch and three or four feet deep.

I'd like to know, too - but the Associated Press article was focused more on pathos than statistics. Nothing wrong with pathos, provided reason is also at work - and that's another topic.

I'm inclined to agree that the needs of the living take precedence over cemetery maintenance.

I found it interesting that a few minutes of research from some middle-aged dude in central Minnesota found a grassroots local organization which seems to have been involved in maintaining the cemetery - and was willing to accept financial help from non-government sources.

As to the scope of the situation in Luzon, the 17 acres mentioned would be - if I did my figures right - about the size of a square 860 feet on a side.

That's a bit abstract. Let's try a comparison.

Around here, the old gridiron street layouts gave us towns where a 12 x 12 array of blocks is a mile on a side - so streets are 440 feet across - and that 860 x 860 square covers about as much land as four residential blocks.

That's not all that much land to clear - provided that a person has time, bulldozers, and gravel trucks. And doesn't mind clearing everything on the land.

It might be faster and less expensive to use a landplane - the sort we use in the Red River Valley of the North to sort out drainage issues, several acres at a time.

A cemetery, that's probably hasn't been reliably mapped and, can't be cleared that way. Not respectfully.

Since clearing the cemetery is probably a shovel-and-bucket job, I'm not terribly surprised that the process is still going on, two decades after an eruption that disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousand of people.

I'm also not terribly surprised that locals are working at clearing the Clark cemetery. It's a reasonable, and very human, show of respect for those who lived before.

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