Army veteran spearheading petition to save oldest Naval graveyard on the West Coast

The oldest Naval graveyard on the West Coast, the Mare Island Cemetery was closed in 1921, but cared for by the Navy until 1996, when the site was turned over to the city of Vallejo. Past reports note the city has not had the manpower or funds to adequately maintain the site.


By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN | The Times-Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 13, 2018

The effort to get the dilapidated Mare Island Cemetery re-claimed by the federal government has a new, local champion in veteran Nestor Aliga, a former Army Colonel who has launched an online petition on the matter.

The petition, which was posted Sunday night, already had at least 100 signatures by Monday morning, Aliga said.

Aliga has taken on the mantle created by retired Navy Capt. Ralph Parrott, who was so appalled by the condition he found the site during an impromptu visit last year, that he started investigating ways its fortunes might be improved.

“Colonel Nestor Aliga has taken it upon himself to take the lead in mobilizing the veterans’ community of Vallejo to obtain justice for the Mare Island Naval Cemetery and to provide a place for future burials to honor our veterans,” Parrott said in an email from his home in the Washington, D.C. area. “He deserves the full support of the community for his selfless initiative. With grass roots efforts such as Colonel Aliga’s and the Mayor’s willingness to offer additional land adjacent to the cemetery for future burials, I think there is a very good chance the VA will take over the cemetery and restore it to its rightful condition and maintain it in perpetuity.”

And that is what both men say they’ve determined is the best course of action for the oldest military cemetery on the West Coast.

The Mare Island Cemetery was closed in 1921, but cared for by the Navy until the 1996 shipyard closure, when the site was turned over to the city of Vallejo. Though a valiant effort was made by volunteers to keep the site maintained, it fell into disrepair in the intervening years. Parrott and Aliga agree that their best bet for getting the VA to retake responsibility for the cemetery would be to offer land for new veterans grave sites — something that is becoming more difficult to find statewide, and in the Bay Area in particular, they said.

“Ralph and I have been discussing ways to reach out to people and I went to the Vallejo Veterans Building Council where various local vets groups were able to discuss this issue, and they all wanted to write letters of support,” Aliga said. “A petition was suggested — and, this being the internet age, an online petition seemed like a way for the effort to go nationwide.”

“We respectfully request the Executive Branch, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin, to honor the military service of our Nation’s Veterans by re-possessing/assuming ownership of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery by Fiscal Year 2020,” the petition reads. “The Mare Island Naval Cemetery (MINC) is a national shrine, but its deplorable condition is a shocking disgrace to the honorable service, uncommon valor, and selfless sacrifice of our courageous Veterans buried there and, even worse, to the dignity our great Nation.”

The mission of the Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration is to provide a dignified burial and lasting memorial for Veterans and their eligible family members and to maintain our Veterans’ cemeteries as national shrines, the petition says.

“The MINC is a national shrine as it has about 1,000 graves including Veterans who served since the War of 1812. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, it is the final resting place for three Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, James Cooney, William Halford, and Alexander Parker. Also buried there is Anna Arnold Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key who wrote our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner,” it says.

The petition asks the government to assume ownership of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery by Fiscal Year 2020.

“I’m hoping someone from Veterans Affairs or the White House — someone who can do something about it — will get hold of it, will see it, and will put some ‘command emphasis from the top,’ as they say in the military,” Aliga said.

With between 8,000 and 10,000 veterans in Vallejo, an impressive number of signatures should be achievable, he said.

“If I can get just 20 percent to sign it, 2000, that would be great,” Aliga said. “Sometimes, it takes someone from the outside — in this case Ralph — to come and notice something wrong, to slap you in the head and say, ‘hey, folks, this is not normal, this isn’t right,’ to take you out of your stupor of complacency. This (the condition of the cemetery) is wrong. It doesn’t reflect our pride in our nation.”

The petition can be found and signed at http://chn.ge/2BUHBjI

©2018 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)
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