Earlier this month, the process of transferring the Mare Island Naval Cemetery from the City of Vallejo to National Cemetery Administration was finally completed.
Just in time for a special Memorial Day event on Monday morning.
About 100 people showed up at the oldest naval cemetery on the West Coast. Burials – including six Russian sailors and a former commanding officer’s dog – began at the hillside cemetery in 1856 and continued until 1921. The site, a National Historic Landmark, has three Medal recipients. honor of Congress – James Cooney, Alexander Parker and William Halford. .
On Monday, keynote speaker Lourdes Tiglao, director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Female Veterans, spoke about the more than 2 million female veterans. Tiglao focused on the service of Mary Walker – the only woman among 3,500 to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“Why aren’t there more stories?” Women made the ultimate sacrifice for our country when the time called. said Tiglao. “It’s because women are still struggling to be seen as equals, or just seen. And not just because I’m small. We are still fighting for this equality.
Others at Monday morning’s event included Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell, Vice Mayor Rozaana Verder-Aliga, Vallejo City Council members Katy Miessner and Cristina Arriola.
Assistant Secretary Virginia Wimmer spoke about what she called “the real reason” for Memorial Day.
“We know the true purpose today and we owe it to those who died in service to keep it going,” Wimmer said. “We know why we take three days off and organize such good barbecues. We know that today’s objective is not lost on those who are here this morning. Recognizing veterans is not a one-day ritual. Californians understand the honor our fallen heroes have brought and the ultimate sacrifices they have made for our nation’s freedom and the many rights we often take for granted.
Long-time veteran Nestor Aliga again helped organize the event.
“This place personally and my presence here is to honor 860 people who are buried here, plus 100 of their families. Overall, Memorial Day is a tough day for me,” Aliga said, holding back tears. “It reminds me of friends who have passed away. But it’s a part of me to be able to do all those things. Thinking of it as a celebration of life helps me. That’s how I try to frame it in my head.
Aliga was at the center of efforts to restore the cemetery, along with retired US Navy Captain Ralph Parrott of Virginia, who visited the cemetery in March 2017 and was appalled at its dilapidated state. Parrott and Dep. Asst. Secretary of the Navy Karnig Ohannessian helped the city of Vallejo apply for the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training.
U.S. Representative Mike Thompson introduced HR 5588 in April 2018, directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to seek an agreement with the city of Vallejo, under which the city would transfer control of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA. The cemetery will be specifically placed under the supervision of the National Administration of Cemeteries. This bill became law on January 1, 2021.
In September 2020, the Department of Defense’s Innovation Training Program (IRT) resumed construction of the Mare Island Reserve and Naval Cemetery. The IRT project includes grading, installation of drainage systems, minor restoration of burial sites and repair of fencing throughout the area.
Aliga had previously hoped Mare Island Naval Cemetery would become a VA National Cemetery by July 4 and join Benicia Arsenal Post Cemetery, which became a VA National Cemetery in 2020. The two are the oldest naval and military cemeteries from West. Coast, respectively, and will be managed by Sacramento Valley VA National Cemetery staff in Dixon.
Another veteran, Jeffrey Hall, who served in the Marines from 1981 to 1989, was delighted to see the cemetery in its current state on Monday and thanked Aliga.
“He was the engine. It really had to be a national cemetery,” Hall said. “I was really happy to see Nestor finally realize his dream of making this happen. He wanted this to happen and represented a lot of us who also wanted this to happen.
Hall also said Memorial Day was a tough day for him.
“Oh, I always think of all the sacrifices. We have Veterans Day for those of us who lived, but today I think of all the people who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free,” Hall said. “The old cliché is that freedom doesn’t come free and some of these people have forgotten that over time like World War II about 80 years ago. It brings tears to my eyes, let me tell you.