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Witness Testimony of Honorable Raymond Wollman, Deputy Secretary, American Battle Monuments Commission

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee…

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the cemeteries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  As we reported to you previously, honoring our Nation’s fallen has been our purpose since the Commission’s creation in 1923. 

It is our responsibility to honor America’s war dead and missing in action, where they have served overseas.  We maintain 24 cemeteries and 25 memorials, monuments and markers worldwide.  Most of our commemorative sites are in Europe; others are in North Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific.  But it is not geography that defines the American Battle Monuments Commission—it is purpose.  

ABMC’s core mission is one of commemoration—honoring service and sacrifice by maintaining memorial shrines to our Nation’s war dead and preserving their stories.  We execute that mission by striving to maintain our commemorative sites to a high standard and by providing historical context for why our overseas monuments and cemeteries were established, why those memorialized within them died, and the values for which they died.  Those whom we honor deserve nothing less. 

Our maintenance standard is “like new.”  Most of our sites are 52 to 98 years old, with the Mexico City National Cemetery being nearly 161 years old.  Maintaining these sites in a “like new” condition is challenging, but that is our objective.  The following paragraphs illustrate the types of projects required to maintain our infrastructure.

Memorial Improvements

A significant amount of work is required at our memorials to keep these beautiful centerpieces of our sites in excellent condition.

At Florence cemetery in Italy, the roofing system above the chapel and memorial was replaced and additional work is in design to level the terrace, repoint the Wall of the Missing, and realign stonework.

At Ardennes cemetery in Belgium, a project to improve waterproofing and drainage of the memorial’s stone terrace is under design with award later this summer.  The work includes removal then replacement of all stonework, including the Tablets of the Missing, and replacement of damaged interior wall stones.

At the Epinal cemetery and Montsec monument in France, and at the Luxembourg cemetery, cleaning and repointing of the memorial buildings will begin soon.

Also at Epinal, work will be completed this year to replace the asphalt terrace around the memorial and improve drainage.

And at Sicily-Rome cemetery in Italy, restoration of the fresco painting of battle maps is underway and restoration of the bronze and ceramic relief map will be awarded soon.

Headstones

With two robots capable of refurbishing and engraving eight headstones per day each, we have made much progress in improving the overall appearance at our sites.  We refurbished 1,100 headstones and engraved 650 new headstones in FY 2011.  Projects are underway to replace a significant number of headstones in our Brookwood (England), North Africa (Tunisia), and Manila (Philippines) cemeteries, as well as ongoing refurbishment and replacement projects at most other sites, in particular at our World War I cemeteries.

Horticulture

Just as our memorial cemeteries are enobled with great architecture and art, so too are they enriched with beautiful landscape architecture—some 900 acres of flowering plants, fine lawns and meadows; 3 million square feet of shrubs and hedges; 85,000 rose bushes, and 11,000 ornamental trees.  All of these plantings, including lawns and to some extent the meadows, must be cut and shaped, fertilized and treated with insecticides and fungicides at regular intervals.  Occasionally, more ambitious horticultural planting projects are required, such as one at Meuse-Argonne cemetery, where we will restore tree plantings to the original landscape plan by replacing beech trees with sycamores.  And, since 2005, we have improved 12 irrigation systems. 

Roads and Paths

Work also is required in and around the cemetery plot areas to improve the horizontal surfaces and associated drainage.

At Luxembourg, the entire network of pathways is being replaced to improve bearing loads on perimeter routes and realign border stones.  Other work includes replacing the original drainage system in the burial plots, releveling the terrace and improving drainage around the memorial, and improving handicap access to the burial plots and General Patton’s grave.

The perimeter road and associated drainage at Sicily-Rome cemetery is being replaced and improved, as is drainage in the plot areas.  Improvements related to a visitor center project at Sicily-Rome will be made to the entrance, including additional bus parking. 

Handicap Accessibility

We completed a comprehensive accessibility study at our 11 cemeteries in France.  While the study included all areas that do not meet United States or host nation codes, the focus was to ensure physical access to the plot areas, memorials, visitor centers, and restroom facilities.  Studies will be conducted at our other sites, while projects are developed to correct deficiencies identified at the sites in France.   

Telling Their Story

Maintaining our monuments and cemeteries is and will remain the Commission’s core mission and top priority.  But we also have a responsibility to tell the stories of those we honor.  Accordingly, we have several improvement projects underway to do just that, which Secretary Cleland reported to you previously.

We expect to award three visitor center projects this year at Cambridge American Cemetery in England, Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy, and at the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument in Normandy, France; and we have a project in design at Meuse-Argonne.  Cambridge and Sicily-Rome will be new facilities, while Pointe du Hoc and Meuse-Argonne will be renovations and modest expansions of existing facilities.

To ensure that all of our cemeteries have basic interpretive information available as soon as possible, we are producing “temporary” exhibits that will be deployed within the next 18 months.  This is particularly important for our World War I sites, as we approach the August 2014 beginning of the World War I Centennial.

Manila American Cemetery and Pacific Memorials

The story of World War II in the Pacific is the bookend to the story of World War II in Europe.  In FY 2010, the Commission began efforts to bring the Manila American Cemetery and Pacific memorials up to the same standards we maintain in Europe. 

The Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines is the Commission’s largest cemetery and our only commemorative cemetery in the Pacific.  It contains 17,201 graves of our military dead of World War II, most of whom lost their lives in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines. On rectangular limestone piers within the hemicycles are inscribed the Tablets of the Missing containing 36,285 names.

During FY 2010 and 2011, ABMC invested in horticulture projects to modify existing irrigation and pump systems and replace landscape and horticulture features.  The Manila cemetery requirements beginning in FY 2012 are two-fold: improve the infrastructure of the cemetery and establish an enhanced interpretation program.

In order to combine interpretation and infrastructure efforts in a thoughtful process, a master plan was funded in FY 2011 to evaluate the need for major facility upgrades, assess current conditions and infrastructure priorities, and address the Commission’s interpretive program.

Manila is the only ABMC cemetery in the Far East and where we have the ability to tell the story of the war in the Pacific.  The cemetery honors by burial and by name on tablets of the missing more than 53,000 service men and women, nearly 24 percent of the 225,000 individuals honored at ABMC commemorative sites worldwide.

The master plan is not yet complete, and to the extent out-year funding is available, infrastructure and interpretation projects will be allocated and prioritized accordingly.  However, early indications are that the Commission needs to address serious cemetery requirements.  Two of those requirements will be addressed in FY 2013:

Perimeter Wall: There are serious encroachment and boundary issues at the cemetery.  To protect the cemetery and to address security concerns, the Commission will replace the current chain link fence around the site with a robust perimeter wall.  Unless marked by a substantial “permanent” wall, local culture ascribes a “temporary” definition to the boundary that will continue to subject our commemorative site to degradation by such intrusions as local highway projects and infiltration by squatters. The new perimeter wall will be constructed in FY 2013 and should protect ABMC land from future intrusion. 

Quarters: The design of our quarters will be funded in FY 2013.  The existing two quarters are aging and are deficient in structure (walls are not insulated) and air conditioning (low efficiency window units).

Pacific Memorials: The Cabanatuan Memorial in the Philippines and the Guadalcanal Memorial in the Solomon Islands were built to lesser standards with inappropriate materials. The Commission plans to renovate the Cabanatuan Memorial in FY 2013.  At the Guadalcanal Memorial, seismic activity is causing degradation of the granite and we have encroachment and vandalism concerns.  In addition, at the Honolulu Memorial, located within the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a handicap accessibility project was completed last year, new Vietnam War battle maps will be dedicated in November, and significant memorial renovations are scheduled. 

Heritage Assets

Our commemorative memorial cemeteries are completed works of art.  As we perform the work described above—be it routine maintenance, restoration, replacement, or new construction—we are sensitive to the Commission’s responsibility to preserve the historic fabric of our sites.  New interventions, in particular, must be carefully planned so as not to denigrate these magnificent shrines to service and sacrifice, in keeping with their status as important national heritage assets.

Conclusion

The essence of our mission does not change from year to year: (1) keep the headstones white; (2) keep the grass green; and (3) tell the story of those we honor. 

We are a small agency—about 400 people in total.  But whether United States citizen or foreign national, our people remain committed to executing those three objectives with the sole purpose of fulfilling the promise made by our first chairman, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, that ‘time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”