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Witness Testimony of The Honorable Max Cleland, Secretary, American Battle Monuments Commission

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee…

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriation Request.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds”

Those words of our first chairman, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, have served as our mantra and are the foundational inspiration of our strategic plan. 

Honoring our Nation’s fallen overseas has been our purpose since the Commission’s creation in 1923.  We perform this mission by commemorating service and sacrifice worldwide—at sites entrusted to our care by the American people.  It is our responsibility to honor America’s war dead and missing in action, where they have served overseas.

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 so that time, indeed, does not dim the glory of their deeds.  It is not geography that defines the American Battle Monuments Commission—it is purpose. 

And we execute that mission 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. 

We must ensure that the words of British citizen Thomas Gorden were not prophetic, when he wrote:

Gods and soldiers we adore

In times of danger not before

The danger past and all things righted

God’s forgotten and soldiers slighted

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.

We have three visitor center projects we expect to award this year that will enable us to better tell stories of service and sacrifice at Cambridge American Cemetery in England,         Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy, and at the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument in Normandy, France.

At the same time, we recognize our responsibility to prudently match our interpretive program efforts to fiscal and visitation realities. 

Normandy American Cemetery, whose visitor center was dedicated in 2007, is our most visited site, with one million visitors annually.  Pointe du Hoc receives nearly 500,000 visitors a year.  Cambridge and Sicily-Rome, with their proximity to the major tourist destinations of London and Rome, have visitation growth potential.  Most of our cemeteries, however, receive far fewer visitors. 

We also are sensitive to the Commission’s responsibility to preserve the historic fabric of our sites, in keeping with their status as important national heritage assets.  At sites such as Meuse-Argonne cemetery in France and Flanders Field cemetery in Belgium, rather than program new facilities, we will renovate the existing visitor buildings to accommodate state-of-the-art interpretive exhibits.

Experience also has demonstrated that facility and exhibit design is a multi-year process—many of our sites might wait 15 to 20 years before we are able to provide full interpretive services to their visitors.  That is not acceptable. 

To ensure that all of our cemeteries have basic interpretive information available much sooner, 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.

Unfortunately, most American and foreign citizens will never have the opportunity to walk the hallowed grounds of our overseas sites.  For them, our website must become a virtual visitation experience. 

Over the next five years, we will produce 18 educational interactive programs on major U.S. campaigns of the world wars to supplement the Normandy Campaign and Battle of Pointe du Hoc programs available now.  And this year we will produce a mobile phone app for a tour of the Pointe du Hoc battlefield that will also be produced in a web version, the first of many such virtual tours we want to make available to the public. 

We must continue to adapt our message and our products to the interests and demands of younger generations, for whom these important heritage sites and timeless lessons must remain relevant.  We are devoting resources to do just that.

Let me now turn to a brief discussion of the work we are doing, and the work we need to do, in the Pacific.

UN Cemetery Memorial in Korea

The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (UNMCK) is located in Pusan, Korea.  This site is the only UN military cemetery in the world.  The Korean government has given the United Nations the use of the land for the cemetery in perpetuity.

Eleven countries have members of their armed forces interred at the cemetery, including the United States.  Most of those nations have memorials in the cemetery honoring their armed forces—the U.S. does not.   

In 2010, the Commission received an inquiry about creating a United States Memorial at this UN cemetery. Our Commissioners approved the project and we will take a design concept to the Commission of Fine Arts for approval next month.  We hope to dedicate the memorial this summer.

Pacific Memorials

We also will restore four of our existing Pacific memorials.

Honolulu Memorial

The Honolulu Memorial is located within the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The memorial and cemetery are located in Puowaina Crater, an extinct volcano referred to locally as the Punchbowl because of its shape. The Commission erected the Honolulu Memorial in 1964 and it was dedicated on May 1, 1966. The Department of Veterans Affairs administers the cemetery; our Commission administers the memorial.

With 2010 and 2011 funding, we installed lifts at the memorial to provide full accessibility, and we are working on a Vietnam battle maps project we expect to dedicate in November on Veterans Day.  Additional renovation and infrastructure work is budgeted in FY 2012 and FY 2013s.

Cabanatuan Memorial

The Cabanatuan Memorial in the Philippines is located at the site of the camp and honors those who died during internment.  The Commission, recognizing the significance of this memorial, accepted responsibility for its operation and maintenance in 1989.  

Because it was built as a private memorial, the design was not approved by the Commission of Fine Arts.  We will renovate the memorial to replace and upgrade cladding materials, address deficiencies in the memorial text, and make site improvements to include the outbuilding and restrooms.

Guadalcanal Memorial

The Guadalcanal Memorial was built through the joint efforts of ABMC and the Guadalcanal-Solomon Islands Memorial Commission.  It honors Americans and Allies who lost their lives during the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II (August 1942 to February 1943).

Problems with the memorial are related to its foundation and encroachment.  The Solomon Islands experience intense seismic activity causing degradation of the granite, gaps at the joints, and cracks and breakage of the granite tiles. Vandalism is rampant because of the lack of a fence on the property line.  Fencing is required to bring this site up to ABMC standard. 

            West Coast Memorial

The West Coast Memorial is located on the grounds of the Presidio overlooking the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  The memorial was erected in memory of those who met their deaths in the American coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. On the wall are inscribed the names of 412 Americans whose remains were never recovered or identified.

A project has been approved to address Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades and landscaping improvements in FY 2013.  Additionally, consideration is being given to adding an outdoor interpretive panel to provide historical context for the memorial to visitors.

Manila American Cemetery

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. The headstones, aligned in 11 plots, are set among a wide variety of tropical trees and shrubbery.

The chapel, enriched with sculpture and mosaics, stands near the center of the cemetery. In front of it on a wide terrace are two large hemicycles. Twenty-five mosaic maps recall the achievements of the American armed forces in the Pacific, China, India and Burma. On rectangular limestone piers within the hemicycles are inscribed the Tablets of the Missing containing 36,285 names. Carved in the floors are the seals of the American states and territories.

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 and to assess current conditions and infrastructure priorities. The master plan is not complete, but 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 existing two quarters are aging and are deficient in structure (walls are not insulated) and air conditioning (low efficiency window units). There has been a significant change in the cemetery environment as a result of high rise building construction, creating a less desirable living environment. The buildings overlook the quarters leaving no privacy to the families. Major renovation of the existing quarters will be costly and unsatisfactory due to this environment. The two quarters will be moved to a vacant area of the cemetery grounds, away from the high rise buildings.  Quarters design will be funded in FY 2013.

Interpretation: Although we will not address the interpretive program at Manila cemetery in FY 2013, I want to mention it briefly.  Manila is the only ABMC cemetery in the Far East 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 site also provides the Commission its best opportunity to feature accounts of the competence, courage and sacrifice of United States Navy and Marine Corps forces.  Our Manila cemetery is an important venue for telling the World War II story in the Pacific.

Our requirements in the Pacific are extensive.  Manila American Cemetery and our memorials in the Pacific are important elements of ABMC’s worldwide commemorative mission and must receive appropriate attention and care, as that provided to our sites in Europe.  We are committed to correcting the problems at these Pacific sites in future budgets. 

Appropriation Request

To execute this mission, our Fiscal Year 2013 request is for $73,600,000 in total budget authority and a 400 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employment level. 

The $58.4 million we request for Salaries and Expenses supports Commission requirements for compensation and benefits; rent and utilities; maintenance, infrastructure, and capital improvements; contracting for services; procurement of supplies and materials; and replacement of equipment.  Our Salaries and Expenses request is $2.7 million below the funding provided for FY 2012.

The request to replenish our Foreign Currency Fluctuations Account under “such sums as may be necessary” language is estimated to be $15,200,000, a reduction of $800,000 from FY 2012.  The $15.2 million will be used to defray losses resulting from changes in the value of foreign currencies against the U.S. Dollar.  The ability to maintain purchasing power in an uncertain financial environment is critical when 60 percent of our annual appropriation is spent overseas.

We have taken a balanced approach to the projected reduction in our Salaries and Expenses account.  Just over $2.0 million of the $2.7 million reduction will be taken in our Engineering & Maintenance and Interpretation programs.  The other $700,000 reduction will be taken in Travel and in Services, Supplies and Equipment.  This decrease also implements the Office of Management and Budget Director’s September 12, 2011 guidance regarding “Eliminating Excess Conference Spending and Promoting Efficiency in Government.”

The Commission requests no increase for Salaries & Benefits.  The reduction in FTE is in line with our actual personnel requirements in FY 2011, our anticipated requirements for FY 2012, and reflects one of the results of the Secretary’s reorganization plan to streamline the Commission in 2009.  The reduction permits the Commission to fully fund mandatory overseas compensation expense increases that we incur without being constrained by Federal pay guidance, and an estimated 0.5 percent pay increase under the Administration’s FY 2013 pay assumptions.

Conclusion

The essence of the Commission’s mission success 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. 

The Commission’s $73,600,000 request will provide the resources needed to accomplish those core mission requirements, to a level that our war dead deserve and that the American people have come to expect.   

With the support of the Administration and the Congress, we strive do our part to meet the challenge posed by the poet Archibald MacLeish—words I have shared with you before but which forever ring true:

“… We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning ...”

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Sub-Committee, I hope that you have the opportunity during your travels to visit our commemorative sites.  Those that do never forget the inspiration, the humility—the gratitude—they felt as they walked those hallowed grounds.

Thank you for allowing me to present this summary of our mission operations and our appropriation request.