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The State of Jefferson’s Official Newspaper
P.O. Box 400 Fort Jones,
Potential Death Nell for Veterans Cemetery
By Barry R. Clausen © February
Saturday, February 7, 2004. Redding, CA. Interim Secretary, Leon Tuttle, California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA) sent a letter dated January 30, 2004 to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Anthony J. Principi, stating that the long anticipated California State Veterans Cemetery Redding (CSVCR) was no longer a project he or Governor Schwarzenegger felt worthy to pursue. Tuttle sited the main reasons for this sudden change in the state’s heart are due to, "… the state’s immediate budget crisis." And "…in light of the new Dixon site."
As a result of hearing Tuttle’s communication to Principi, on February 6th many angry Veterans met at the proposed cemetery site with former California State Senator Maurice Johannessen (who was until recently the California Secretary of Veterans Affairs), Shasta County Supervisor Molly Wilson and reporter George Wilson of KXTV News 10, Sacramento. The story aired on News 10 that evening. Both Johannessen and Wilson have been political leaders fighting for years to place the state veterans cemetery in Northern California.
The majority of veterans on hand for the event were deeply disappointed in Governor Schwarzenegger and the CDVA for dismissing the needs of North State Veterans. Johannessen stated, "The Governor is being shielded from the truth and he needs to know what is going on."
Those attending felt that the Governor and Veterans Affairs were using the budget as an excuse to stop the cemetery from being built. In the letter to Principi, Leon Tuttle, stated, "The Department of Veterans Affairs has budgeted $7 million for the one time construction costs of the proposed California State Veterans Cemetery in Redding…." The letter continues on to explain that a new cemetery in Dixon, California, "…will place Veterans in the north of the state within driving range of a burial site."
Justification for the proposed CSVCR site, according to Tuttle’s letter, was that, "When the effort began, the nearest available United States Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) burial sites were in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery at Gustine about 250 miles away or at Eagle Point National Cemetery in Oregon about 175 miles distant."
"Based on that alone, Tuttle’s argument is weak, at best," states, Julie Clausen, Executive Director of the California State Grange. "The now proposed Dixon is 160 miles from Redding, so just what have North State Veterans gained?" Clausen represents over 14,000 members of the California Grange. "A significant number of our members live in the rural communities of Northern California and many are Veterans directly affected by this decision."
At the cemetery meeting, Julie Clausen, former Field Representative for Senator Johannessen produced copies of the original petitions that had been signed and collected bearing the signatures of over 12,000 North State Veterans and other citizens requesting the cemetery and attesting to its need. These signatures were collected from communities all across the North State including Etna, Fort Jones, Montague and Forks of the Salmon and as far away as Napa and Sacramento.
The question of the already budgeted money is apparently not the problem, but rather the yearly maintenance costs. The new Republican Governor and head of the CDVA claim these maintenance costs would run about $750,000 to $900,000 per year; money that would include hiring eight full time employees. Former Senator/Secretary Johannessen disagrees, he stated, "It appears, the way it looks, is they are trying to stop the project rather than to help, and that is unacceptable,". He went on to say, "When we budgeted, the yearly costs we figured they would be about $250,000 a year with a $500,000 maximum."
"We must make our State Legislators understand how important building the State Cemetery in Shasta County is, not only regionally, but for all of California," stated John Cleckner, United States Army Special Forces, Retired. He and other Veterans believe that the amount of upkeep dollars that the state and media are saying it will cost is grossly overstated and the actual cost is only a fraction of the amount stated by those in state government that want to stop this much needed project.
Redding resident Daniel McDonald of McDonald Landscaping & Tree Maintenance said, "I don’t see how it could justify eight employees and $750,000. If I were to do it, I could probably do it for about $50,000 a year." This cost however does not include burials and administration fees to ensure all phases of the cemetery are managed properly. Dick Sorenson cemetery manager in Arcata, California said the $500,000 figure was very close to what cost may reasonably be.
Jack Tolbert, recipient of the Army Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart and currently pending approval of an upgrade of the Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor, stated, "When I die I want to be buried with full military honors in a Veteran’s Cemetery. Because of my military decorations I qualify for internment into Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. However, other than making an interesting footnote in my obituary, being buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which is 3,350 road miles from my home in Redding, is not what I want for my family."
Tolbert has a wife, eight children and 17 grandchildren. "We are a close and loving family and visiting out loved ones after they have passed away is part of our life. My point is, even though I more than qualify for burial in Arlington National Cemetery, I want to be buried close to my family so they can visit my grave when they want to."
Originally, Mr. Bill Harley developed a plan under the California Veterans Cemetery Association (CVCA) so that a series of ten state cemeteries could be built that would make it possible for California families not to have to drive over 75 miles to visit the graves of their loved ones. Harley, a B-17 pilot from WWII, was the president of the Shasta County Veterans Affiliated Council, who suffered a heart attack and died during his presentation to the Secretary of the CDVA and the California Veterans Board. Navy Fighter Pilot Bob Peterson, picked up where Harley stopped and concluded the presentation. The Shasta site for the first of ten state cemeteries, was to me a model for the rest of the state.
But there is another significant issue to consider. Since the Redding location was approved through legislation authored by then State Senator Maurice Johannessen and the project began, it is estimated that the state, Shasta County and the City of Redding have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the cemetery property just getting ready for construction to begin. California has already completed the required environmental impact studies and engineering for the project. Likewise, Shasta County and the City of Redding have invested heavily to bring necessary services such as water, sewer and electric that are now in place to the chosen grounds. Many believe that if the project is now scrapped, the City and County stated to lose their investment with no compensation from the state.
One question that continues to surface is that many Veterans believe the cemetery issue is retaliation against Johannessen for a budget vote he made that angered the Republican Caucus. Since that vote, it appears that Caucus members (and some of their staff) have done everything in its power to discredit Johannessen and some members of his former staff.
In a press release by State Senator Ross Johnson, Orange County Republican, on November 25, 2002 he stated, "As I assume the responsibility of serving as Dean of the Senate, I take sincere pleasure in knowing that I will replace the formerly Honorable Maurice Johannessen who so ably represented Jackass Butte, Jackass Canyon, Jackass Creek, Jackass Flat, Jackass Gulch and Jackass Mountain for nearly a decade."
Senator Johnson’s press release further stated, "I want to make it clear that while I am the Dean, my colleagues and my friends in the press may continue to address me as ‘Senator or simply’ Sir.’"
Matt Ross, Director of Communications for Senator Johnson stated that the press release was only meant as a "hit piece" on Johannessen as a result of his budget vote and it was designed to be "humorous." He further said, that those that cross the Caucus in the future would be dealt with. Using Assemblyman Dickerson as an example he stated, "You will notice those that crossed party lines and are no longer in office." He also emphasized that this tactic, "will force the other side [Democrats] to deal with us when it comes time to negotiate on such issues in the future – such as the budget." At the cemetery meeting Johannessen dismissed any retaliation issue, stating that it was not true.
With the cemetery concern on the hot plate, another controversial issue has arisen – the future Northern California Veterans Home, also approved for a Redding location. As reported the home is also on the chopping block. Jamie Arteaga, Public Information Officer for the California Department of Veterans Affairs stated, "The Veterans Homes in West LA/Saticoy/Lancaster, Fresno and Redding are still on track."
When asked specifically about the Redding Veterans Home, Arteaga reiterated, "The Redding home is still going on." Arteaga appeared concerned over the rumor that the Veterans Home is being included in the budget cut stating, " I don’t know where they get their information, none of that is true." Artega may be contacted at (916) 653-2158.
On Saturday, February 7, Don Boardman hosted the Northern-California Organized Veterans Advocates (NOVA) public meeting to discuss the cemetery issue. The Shasta County Veterans Hall began to fill with over 200 veterans; some of them showed up on crutches, some using walkers and two in wheelchairs. One of those in a wheelchair was Jack Talbert who lost his legs while fighting for his country. All were concerned that California Government officials were blowing away the project they had been working on for many years. One of Boardman’s major concerns was the closing date on the cemetery. Boardman’s fear is that the money allocated for the cemetery will ultimately end up back in the general fund.
Also in attendance was Johannessen, Willie Preston, Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa’s Redding representative. There were no major local political figures present. Also missing was State Senator Sam Aanestad or his staff. During an interview, Preston said that Aanestad and his staff were working with LaMalfa on the cemetery issue, but they had previous commitments and he was speaking for them also.
Johannessen told the audiences not to over react, that the problem would be resolved. When asked by a member of the audience what was wrong with politicians in Sacramento, Johannessen said in jest, "I think some of them are smoking more that cigarette’s down there."
Leo DeLay, Past Commander of Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) Chapter 9650 in Anderson, California spoke while sitting, after he was helped to the podium. DeLay had recently suffered a heart attack and felt the issue was so important he attended the meeting.
Many Veterans agreed with Rocky Cantrell, President of Vietnam Veterans of America Redding Chapter 357, when he stated that the government was denying Veterans benefits to Northern California Veterans. He said, "I feel our country is making us second-hand stepchildren. It was Veterans that made this country what it is today and once again we are getting screwed by the government."
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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