Although only remnants of the bases remain, Orange County was home to tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and their families over the years. We still have on our soil hundreds of Marine, Navy and Army personnel on several bases and reserve installations. And like the Marines in Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Air Force has a presence at a large (but little known) base in Los Angeles as well. On top of that, we are home to, by most estimates, over a hundred thousand veterans. So, it would be safe to say we are still a military county.
So, why is it, with all the rich history of two major bases and the multitude of support activities that have occurred since World War II, there is no place for a family to send their veteran to their final resting place?
Several of the cemeteries in Orange County have either reserved areas for veterans or a substantial memorial for vets. Santa Ana Cemetery is host to a major Civil War memorial and hosts a Memorial Day Ceremony each year. Westminster Memorial Park is also host to a memorial as well. The memorial at Pacific View Memorial Park overlooking the ocean in Corona del Mar is especially beautiful
None of these, however, are specifically for veterans or their families. In fact, the nearest Veterans Administration Cemetery is located in Riverside (Los Angeles is closer but they no longer have room). Riverside National Cemetery, is within 75 miles of Orange County so the prospect of a national cemetery is dim.
Fortunately, the state can and does build veterans cemeteries without the same requirement. And, I recently received an email inviting me to take a survey with one simple question: Should the city of Irvine identify and dedicate at least 100 acres at the Great Park to create a State Veterans Memorial and Cemetery?. The poll is straightforward and, at this writing, has a 2-1 majority in favor of the cemetery.
This is not the only effort by the group to get Irvine to take the lead in this issue. The Liberal OC recently ran an article on a press release they received from the group. The press release urges the Irvine City Council to take the necessary steps to set aside an appropriate amount of land at the Great Park for this project. Local politician, Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, has also thrown in her support by introducing Assembly Bill 1453 which would open the doors to a state-run veterans cemetery. Quirk-Silva wisely wrote the bill to allow the establishment of a veterans cemetery anywhere in the county.
But the logical choice is Great Park land. Originally, a veterans cemetery was part of the deal for development to begin at the old Marine base. Unfortunately, through the years of political maneuvering by developers and some city council members, the project fell by the wayside for most. A tenacious group of veterans, mostly from South County, has held on to the dream. And, now, the time is right to push the idea.
Cities in Orange County have thrown support toward the idea. Los Alamitos, home to the Joint Forces Training Base, has been joined by Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton and several others in the form of resolutions in support of AB1453. Likewise, every Orange County legislator has thrown their support to Quirk-Silva’s bill.
So, where is Tustin and, why haven’t our leaders chimed in? Are they afraid eyes may look toward the Legacy property? Even so, would that be a bad thing? Perhaps an alternative to the Great Park would be a veterans cemetery in the shadow of the blimp hangars.
In any case, the next logical step is the Irvine City Council meeting on Aprill 22, 2014. At that time, the city will discuss the formation of a site selection committee that would review potential sites both on the park and the surrounding area. Veterans are encouraged to attend and wear their patches, ribbons and other appropriate ceremonial attire (American Legion or VFW cap, etc.) in support of the cemetery effort.
The issue is far from a done deal. There are a number of entities, including one Irvine Councilperson, who appear to be against the idea of a veterans cemetery, at least at the Great Park. Five Points Homes, another detractor of the idea, is also attempting to muscle its way onto the committee presumably to keep the icky bodies away from their precious townhomes. Even a Feng Shiu consultant to the city (only in Irvine) has some misgivings.
As for me, I welcome a long overdue honor to our military. Their ghosts speak to me every day as I remember friends and comrades who will finally be able to come home. Let’s give them that peaceful place they deserve.