Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Ms. Lisa Ward, Widow to Major Richard Ward, U.S. Army, Persian Gulf War
My name is Lisa Ward. I am the widow of Major Richard (“Rick”) Ward. I am also the Senior Vice Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (“VFW”) Post 12075, the William “Bill” C. Amundson Memorial Post, which is located outside of Houston Texas. I am a Gulf War Veteran and served in the U.S. Army for 6 years.
My husband Rick loved the Army and served in it for 30 years. He spent time serving our country overseas in the Gulf War and in Korea. Rick and I served in Desert Storm together, although we were not dating or married at the time. We were married for 20 years and have one daughter, Brenda Ward, who is currently a student in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.
On May 27, 2011, I buried my husband Rick at the Houston National Cemetery (the “National Cemetery”). Although I wanted to have the funeral service at the National Cemetery, because of the restrictions the National Cemetery Director placed on the religious speech contained in the traditional VFW Burial Ritual, I chose to hold the service at a private chapel so that the government could not interfere with my husband’s funeral.
My daughter Brenda and I arranged Rick’s funeral service with Larry Matthews at American Heritage Funeral Home. Earl Conley, a fellow veteran and a good friend of my family, was also present for support. During the planning of the arrangements, I told Mr. Matthews that I wanted Rick to have a military funeral because of his thirty years of military service. My daughter Brenda and I had previously decided to have Rick’s ashes buried at the National Cemetery. During the course of our discussion with Mr. Matthews, he informed us that the National Cemetery would not allow the traditional VFW Burial Ritual to be performed on National Cemetery grounds because it includes the word “God.” Mr. Matthews further stated that the Cemetery Director had implemented many new restrictions; in addition to disallowing the traditional VFW Burial Ritual, she was also limiting the length of all funerals to 15 minutes, and would not allow horse-drawn caissons. I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t comprehend why my husband, who was a Gulf War Veteran and faithfully served our country for 30 years, would not be able to have the honor of the VFW Burial Ritual at the National Cemetery.
After discussing it with my daughter, we decided that we wanted Rick to have the honor of the traditional VFW Burial Ritual at his funeral. We therefore decided to have the service held at the private chapel at American Heritage Funeral Home instead of at the National Cemetery. American Heritage Funeral Home opened the doors of the chapel so that those in attendance could hear the rifle salute and the playing of Taps, although they were not able to see them like they would have had the service been held at the National Cemetery. About a week and a half after the funeral service, Rick’s ashes were buried at the National Cemetery.
I had to incur additional expenses to have the funeral service held at the private chapel instead of on the National Cemetery grounds. If the National Cemetery would have allowed the traditional VFW Burial Ritual, I would have held Rick’s funeral there.
For all of the years that my husband served, and all of the time that he spent overseas, he deserved to have the traditional VFW Burial Ritual at the National Cemetery. I feel very disappointed and brokenhearted. I feel like something has been taken away from me at the hardest point of my life. The Houston National Cemetery Director’s policies took away the traditional VFW Burial Ritual, and I can never have it again. I cannot redo my husband’s funeral. What has happened to my family is not fair. I do not want another family to have to go through what I had to go through.