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December 20. 2012 8:34PM

Senate approves Ayotte's cemetery restoration bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved Sen. Kelly Ayotte's legislation to restore Clark Veterans Cemetery, the final resting place in the Philippines for more than 8,300 U.S. service members and their dependents.

Following a volcanic eruption in 1991, the United States abandoned Clark Air Force Base, leaving the cemetery covered in ash and overgrown by weeds, according to a statement from Ayotte's office.

The New Hampshire Republican's bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Arkansas.

"The U.S. government has a moral responsibility to care for veterans cemeteries that honor those who have bravely served our country," said Ay-otte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement.

"The American veterans buried in Clark Veterans Cemetery deserve a dignified and well-maintained final resting place, and it's time for the U.S. to again fulfill its responsibility to care for this sacred ground."

According to Ayotte's office, since 1994, volunteers in the Philippines have attempted to maintain the cemetery without assistance from the United States government.

In April, Ayotte and Begich introduced the "Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act" (S. 2320), which has 15 bipartisan co-sponsors.

It requires the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) "to restore, operate, and maintain Clark Veterans Cemetery to honor the courageous Americans buried there," Ayotte's office said.

According to Ayotte's office, the ABMC is an independent agency of the U.S. government charged with managing overseas cemeteries and monuments. Because Clark Veterans Cemetery is a permanent American cemetery in a foreign country, ABMC is the appropriate federal agency to oversee the cemetery's management and maintenance.

The ABMC also maintains cemeteries and monuments in Europe, as well as the Mexico City National Cemetery in Mexico and Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, both of which are similar to the Clark Veterans Cemetery.

The Ayotte-Begich legislation was endorsed by the Military Coalition, the National Military Veterans Alliance and the Military Officers Association of America.

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John DiStaso may be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com.

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