Coming Home

veterans cemeteryI never thought that is is where I’d settle down,

Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,

They gave me this plot of land,

Me and some other men,

For a job well done.

Arlington – Trace Adkins

By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.

Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.

This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.Quirk-silva

Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.

In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.

The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.

Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on  the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.

Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.

Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.

We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.

Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.

Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.

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