VALLEJO (KPIX 5) — The federal government shutdown has thrown a lot of people’s lives into chaos, but in Vallejo, it is also affecting some whose lives ended more than a century ago.
The Mare Island Naval Cemetery is the oldest military graveyard on the West Coast, established before the Civil War. The cemetery is the resting place of more than 800 veterans dating back to the war of 1812 and even contains the remains of Anna Key, the daughter of “Star Spangled Banner” songwriter Francis Scott Key.
On Tuesday, a group of veterans visiting the site found 70-foot pine tree had toppled in one of the recent storms, knocking over several headstones.
It’s just the latest outrage to hit this forgotten memorial.
“It’s really, you know, for us fellow veterans, I think it’s a stab in our hearts,” explained retired Army Col. Nestor Aliga, choking back his emotions.
The graveyard is a mess, the victim of long neglect. A drainage problem is causing some headstones to literally sink into the earth. Three Medal of Honor recipients rest here. To Colonel Aliga, the shoddy condition of the cemetery is a betrayal that amounts to an unpaid debt to those who sacrificed everything.
“If we don’t take care of our own, in our own homeland, then a lot of veterans would feel insulted,” said Aliga.
When asked if he felt insulted by the way this looks, he replied “Oh yes. It seems like it’s something that should have been fixed many, many years ago.”
Vallejo inherited the property when the neighboring shipyard was shut down in 1996. For years, the city has tried to get the Veteran’s Administration to retake the cemetery and be responsible for its maintenance. Supported by nearly every California Representative and Senator — of both parties — a bill to transfer the graveyard seemed headed for success in December.
Then the federal government shutdown happened.
“And because of the government shutdown, it’s been crickets. We haven’t heard a thing,” said Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan.
The mayor told KPIX 5 officials are back to square one with the bill having to be reintroduced all over again. The turn of events has left veterans angry that military honor is being held hostage by political gamesmanship.
“They say, ‘Well, if I do it, I’m going against so-and-so and I’m not going to get my donations,’ you know?” said retired Marine and Vietnam War vet Manny Concepcion. “I wouldn’t donate to those idiots anyway. I hate those guys that do this.”
Despite their frustration, those fighting to transfer the cemetery say the bipartisan support makes them optimistic they can get it done this year, once the federal government is up and running again.