News / Asia

'Forgotten' Cemetery in Philippines Gets US Recognition

At Clark Veterans Cemetery, the bright white tombstones in the foreground have just been cleaned under a new project that is being funded through donations.
At Clark Veterans Cemetery, the bright white tombstones in the foreground have just been cleaned under a new project that is being funded through donations.
Simone Orendain
A worn-down U.S. veterans’ cemetery in the Philippines that has been in limbo for nearly two decades once again belongs to the U.S. government. Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law the placement of Clark Veterans Cemetery - just north of Manila - under the American Battle Monuments Commission.
 
The ground of the Clark Veterans Cemetery is spongy under the brown, crunchy grass.

Retired Army First Sergeant John Gilbert says this is because of the thick layer of gray lahar and ash that settled after nearby Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991.
 
First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
x
First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
“As soon as the rainy season ends it just turns to dust,” he explains, adding there's no money for a sprinkler system.  "Yeah, that’s always been a desire…Here’s another one that’s pretty low,” Gilbert adds.
 
Gilbert points to a mildew-streaked gravestone peeking out of the ground. There are more than 8,600 markers here, many badly worn down, on this eight-hectare property near a major intersection.
 
Gilbert heads a group of volunteers at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2485 near what used to be Clark U.S. Air Force Base about 100 kilometers north of Manila.  Since 1994, the VFW Post has maintained the cemetery while still holding burials.
 
“About the only thing we’ve been able to do is keep it presentable," he says. "So we’re excited about the changeover.”
 
Among rows of marble name plates sunken between mounds of weed-strewn ashy soil, Gilbert, 65, touts the historical artifacts here.  There is a marker for one of the first Filipino Scouts who died in 1900 during the Spanish-American War.  Also a mini marble obelisk that originally stood at Fort McKinley in Manila, pockmarked by World War II artillery shelling, dedicated to the more than 1,000 unknowns buried here.
 
Nearby Clark Air Force Base and the cemetery were abandoned after the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Soon afterward the Philippines ejected all U.S. military bases. The U.S. pullout left the cemetery in limbo.
 
Two and a half years ago Dennis Wright, a retired Navy captain, formed a lobby group to try to convince Washington officials to return the cemetery to its federal designation. Similar to the well-known Manila American Cemetery where soldiers killed during World War II are buried, supporters wanted a recognized burial place for decorated veterans who survived the war. 
 
“They died well after the war and were buried here.  Now think of the dichotomy.  If you died during the war, you’d get to be revered in Manila.  But if you survived the war, you got forgotten here.  It makes no sense,”  he says.
 
Although many American veterans settled in the Philippines and wish to be buried here, ties with the U.S. military remain a sensitive topic among some in the Philippines.
 
Congressman Walden Bello and a handful of lawmakers have been calling for an end to the 10-year old Visiting Forces Agreement the country has with the U.S., which is focused on counterterrorism training.  Bello says the Clark Veterans Cemetery should rightfully honor American service people.  But he has consistently pushed for American troops in the country’s restive south to leave.  Plus, Bello points to recent environmental mishaps with the U.S. increasing port calls to the Philippines.
 
“The more we are likely to witness such incidents and the more we would see a return to the kind of close military relationship with the United States that’s not been healthy historically for the Philippines,” Bello says.
 
Under the federal designation, the Philippines will host the cemetery free of charge or taxes.  The Clark Development Corporation, which turned the former air base into a commercial hub, sees the new status of the burial ground as a selling point for tourism.
 
Dennis Wright says the two countries still have to come up with an agreement that will allow the U.S. government to run the armed services cemetery on Philippine land.  He says it could take months or one year before Clark Veterans Cemetery starts to receive the allocated $5 million in federal funding.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid