Bill introduced would transfer oldest military cemetery on the west coast to the VA

Matt Saintsing
April 24, 2018 - 6:34 pm

(Courtesy of Myrna Hayes)


After years of neglect, the crumbling Mare Island Naval Cemetery in northern California is the closest it’s ever been to receiving a commitment for long-term maintenance under the purview of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

Marking a new chapter in the fight to clean up the historic—yet run-down— cemetery, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 5588 Tuesday, which directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to seek out an agreement with the City of Vallejo to transfer control of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA.

“A national sanctuary for our veterans, the cemetery should be maintained to the highest standards so our men and women in uniform are honored to the fullest,” said Thompson.

“By transferring control of the cemetery from the city of Vallejo to the VA, this bill will help ensure the cemetery can be maintained without being a financial burden to the city.”

(Courtesy of Myrna Hayes)

The Mare Island Naval Cemetery dates back to 1854 and was the first permanent U.S. Naval installation on the west coast.

It received National Historic Landmark status in 1975, but when the Defense Department closed the adjacent Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1996, the property was transferred to the City of Vallejo. And while local volunteers have offered limited upkeep, the City has been unable to provide a dedicated funding stream for maintenance as it filed for bankruptcy in 2008. 

The cemetery is the final resting place for three Medal of Honor recipients, the last of whom was buried in 1900. Anna Key Turner, the fifth child of Star Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key, is also buried there.

Last March, retired U.S. Navy Captain Ralph Parrott and his wife stumbled upon the decrepit cemetery while traveling through San Francisco. Frustrated by its condition, Parrott reached out in April 2017 to the Department of Veterans Affairs, asking if the VA would be interested in taking responsibility of the run-down burial site.

In an email to Connecting Vets, Parrot said "I want to express the profound gratitude of my colleagues and to Congressman Thompson and Mayor Sampayan and his entire administration for opening this pathway to achieve justice for the Mare Island Naval Cemetery."

He also encouraged veterans to get involved and call on their elected officials to help sherpa the bill through Capitol Hill. 

"This bill can be passed into law during the current session of Congress. The citizens of this country and the veterans' community must get behind this bill; call, write or email your Senators and Congressman now," said Parrott.

The rallying cry should be "Respect for Mare Island Cemetery by Memorial Day," he added.

Dozens of volunteers gave the historic cemetery a much-needed cosmetic face-lift last September, but since the site is a historic landmark, their repairs were limited to superficial improvements, not the structural maintenance the site desperately needs. 

Nestor Aliga, a retired U.S. Army Colonel in the Bay Area organized a petition to push the VA to take responsibility of the cemetery, in Janurary. It currently has more than 52,000 signatures.

The bill introduced Tuesday is a watershed moment for local veterans and advocates who want nothing more than to see the sacred grounds cleaned up by the VA. If the bill becomes law, the site could be re-opened and become the final resting place for thousands of Bay Area veterans.