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U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs officially 'takes responsibility' of Mare Island Naval Cemetery

Times-Herald - 11/28/2023

Nov. 28—About two weeks after ownership of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery was officially transferred from the City of Vallejo to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the VA announced on Tuesday that it has "officially taken responsibility for administration and maintenance" for the venue.

As it has been for over 20 years, the cemetery will remain closed for interments.

A news release by the VA states "the site will be managed by Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, which also maintains the Benicia Arsenal Post Cemetery that was transferred to VA by the Department of the Army in 2020."

"We accept the sacred trust to care for the graves and maintain the memory of Veterans and all those who have been laid to rest at Mare Island Naval Cemetery," said Matthew Quinn, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs of the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) in a news release. "We will begin designing improvements at this historic cemetery in the near future to meet NCA's appearance standards that Americans have come to expect from any of our cemeteries."

The cemetery, the oldest Naval one on the West Coast, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. It has three Congressional Medal of Honor recipients — James Cooney, Alexander Parker and William Halford.

According to that same news release, Vallejo area veterans and their eligible family members will continue to have access to burial at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery. Information on VA burial and memorial benefits is available online at www.va.gov/burials-memorials or by calling Sacramento Valley National Cemetery at 707-693-2460.

On Tuesday, U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-04) released a statement saying he was thrilled with the news.

"The transfer of the Mare Island Cemetery to VA marks the end of a nearly decade long effort of mine to restore the level of dignity and solemnity that the cemetery deserves," said Thompson. "I am proud to see the culmination of my efforts to restore this cemetery for the nearly one thousand servicemembers buried there, including three Medal of Honor recipients, so their final resting place will be protected and honored. This announcement by VA will help ensure that the cemetery is cared for and that grounds will be preserved for future generations."

First introduced in 2018, Rep. Thompson's legislation directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to seek out an agreement with the City of Vallejo, under which the city would transfer control of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA. That bill became law on January 1, 2021.

The process was declared complete first two weeks ago by Chief Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner and then confirmed by Vallejo Community Engagement Manager Sharon Lund the following day.

"I am happy to report that all documents are now recorded for the Mare Island Naval Cemetery and the transfer to VA is now complete," Risner shared Monday, Nov. 13 in an email to retired U.S. Navy Commander Ralph Parrott, who has been a strong advocate for completing the process. Parrott was also elated the transfer was complete.

"I am also very excited about the prospect of what the cemetery can become," Parrott said on Nov. 14. "Namely, it can become a national shrine as the NCA restores and upgrades it to national shrine standards. As such it can become a focal point of naval history on the West Coast and the Pacific from the times of sail until the modern era.

"The stories of the foreign sailors buried there are mostly the stories of ships invited to call by the Navy and subsequently assigning sailors to fight fires in San Francisco where they were killed," Parrott continued. "The stories of the civilians buried there are the stories of the Vallejo area in the 19th century. Most importantly, the restored cemetery will be a place of honor where families can trace their ancestors and be proud of how they are being honored by a grateful country."

The cemetery has gone through a major restoration. Neglected for years, a process to repair it began shortly after Parrott visited the venue and voiced his displeasure's about the condition to then-Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan.

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(c)2023 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)

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