Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee.
My name is Linda Lee-Witt. I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I am a widow, and a member of Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. which is a non-profit membership organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress as a unique organization on December 4, 1980. To be eligible for membership, your spouse must have died while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or died from a service related disability.
I am also the Administrative Officer of the Retiree Activities Office under the 21st Air wing, Peterson Air Force Base working directly with retirees, spouses, and dependants.
Because of my involvement with Gold Star Wives, and the RAO, I am in a position to hear the frustrations, and concerns of surviving spouses, dependants, and retirees.
My testimony today will be my story. My husband grew up in a military family. His father fought during WWII, and retired from the Army as a Major. As a child, my husband lived and went to school all over the world.
Like his father, my husband dedicated his whole career to the United States Government. He honorably served our country during the Vietnam War and peace time in the United States Air Force.
After retiring from the Air Force, he continued to serve his country in Civil Service working in Safety Engineering at Fort Carson, where he deployed with the troops wherever they went. Whether it was to Kuwait after the Gulf War, fighting fires in California, training and educating our soldiers and their commanders on safety issues, or investigating accidents and fatalities off and on Base when it involved any of our troops. He had a deep passion and love for this country, for our soldier’s and their safety, and he identified with what they and their families faced every day.
He was a true patriot, and a hero. He died from a service connected cancer on Nov. 3, 2004 in our home. Because there had been a snow storm, and our driveway is up hill, the mortuary van was unable to navigate the driveway to pick up and transfer his body to the funeral home. Our son had to put his father’s body in his four wheel drive to get down to the van.
I wanted my husband to be buried with the full military honors that he so deserved. For months after his death I kept his ashes, not wanting his remains to be buried in a civilian cemetery, but also wanting his remains close. All of our children and Grandchildren live here. We have a very large military presence in Elpaso County that is quickly growing, yet no military cemetery. Because of the month of my husband’s death, it is often not possible to get safely over Monument Pass to Denver. Veterans day, when it would mean so much for my children and grandchildren together as a family, to see first hand the price that has been paid by so many for the freedom and the rights we have today. For them to take part in the ceremonies honoring our veterans, and paying tribute to those brave warriors who risked their lives for their country and families. To see those who have given all, being honored on that special day in a national cemetery, knowing that their father and grandfather paid the ultimate price, would be a valuable and inspiring experience for us together as a family. Again, it is not always possible to travel over Monument Pass to get to our National cemetery at that time of year.
My husband’s parents settled in Nashville Tn., where two of his brothers still live. I finally decided to have his remains buried in the national cemetery there. I regret that realistically, we will never all be able to visit the Nashville National Cemetery together. Only one of our children has been able to make the trip to see the site where their father is buried. The others have only seen pictures.
Right now, with the war in Iraq, our city is rapidly growing. There are more and more troops being stationed here, and more and more new young widows and dependants living here. As it was with my husband, many of our service men and women opt to stay, and live in Southern Colorado. In the next few years, the new retiree population will be much larger here then it will be in the Denver area. We need a National cemetery here, in Elpaso County. It doesn’t make sense to build one anywhere else in the state with so many of our military bases here in southern Colorado.
As I talk with the widows of the WWII and Vietnam era, they express how hard it is to make the trip to Denver. Because of their ages, many must rely on someone taking them to Denver because they are afraid or unable to drive themselves. Many of them have expressed they were not able to find the National Cemetery at Fort Logan when they did go.
In talking to the young Iraq widows and their family’s, it is clear that it is a hardship for them to take a whole day with young children, to visit their husband’s graves. They say that during the grieving process it would be so comforting to be able to sit quietly by the graves of their loved ones while their children are in school, without having to try to find a babysitter. That due to the distance, changing weather conditions so common in our area, and the traffic, they can’t risk not being able to get back in time for their little ones. They tell me how important it is and how healing it is for their children to see the place where their parent’s remains are, so that they can work through their grief, and see how their parent was given a resting place among our bravest and best. Hero’s all. To see how our leaders and our country honor our fallen hero’s, and to be proud of their parent’s sacrifice and dedication to a better and free country for them.
I would like to quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, March 4, 1865. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who has borne the battle, his widow and his orphan.”
Again, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today and express the views of myself and other military spouses, dependants, and retirees on an issue very close to our hearts.