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Grief at the gravestones

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by Heather Hauswirth

Guam - The Guam Veterans Affairs Office is still waiting on approval from the Department of Administration before it can hire four personnel who will be tasked with regularly maintaining Veterans Cemetery. In the meantime, veterans are concerned that the current conditions of the cemetery are not up to standard and complaints of trash, unkempt grass, overcrowding and graves occupied by non-veterans is fueling the fire behind the veterans push to get the permanent hired help vital to maintaining a respectable cemetery.

"It's not completely up to par," said Tony Guzman.  "The Veterans Cemetery on Guam or anywhere, any veterans cemetery around the world should be treated as a national shrine."  Tony Guzman is retired army chief warrant officer who served the nation for 20 years.

As a veteran, Guzman says the conditions at the cemetery are embarrassing, saying, "Inmates from the Department of Corrections are currently responsible for maintaining the Veterans Cemetery and this is ongoing until the Department of Administration grants the Veterans affairs office permission to hire personnel specifically tasked with maintaining the cemetery on a regular basis."

Guzman says filling these positions permanently is critical, saying, "Borrowed help like inmates from doc, personnel from the village mayor of Piti, the Guam Veterans Affairs Office, volunteers out there - it's not enough - it's borrowed help, there's no guarantee."

Veterans Affairs Administrator Fred Gofigan agrees with Guzman. Gofigan says his office is working hard to give the people of Guam a veterans cemetery they can be proud of, " saying, "Guam holds a record for recruitment per capita in the whole nation and we talk about patriotism, so that's proof this needs to be made into a national shrine.  I have some of the equipment, but the staffing is what I need to enforce the rules and regs."

Gofigan adds many families of the deceased do not follow the rules and regulations posted outside the cemetery.  Guzman says the result is a public eyesore, saying, "Grass is too long, grass is not properly maintained, trees need trimming, the wide walls are not as wide as they should be, trash may be flying around," he said.

Like Guzman, veteran Tom Devlin agrees more needs to be done, but he adds there's only so much the Veterans Affairs Office can do without funding.  "A lot of issues, one of the biggest issues is a lack of money. The cemetery was looked at by the Veterans Administration a few months ago and the report that was given was a very negative report," he said.

The poor conditions of the vets cemetery were also cited by a September 2011 Triennial Review from the National Cemetery Administration based in Washington, DC, which flagged weed infested grass which encroaches on grave sites, drainage issues and white paint splattered on sidewalks as matters of concern. The report also indicated that with approximately 100 annual burials and over 3,000 gravesites maintained in 13 of 18 acres, it is likely that the cemetery will not have enough acreage to develop casket burials beyond another five years.

Gofigan says that crisis is another to add to the list.

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