When Fort Ord closed two decades ago, the community promised to veterans and their families that we would build a final resting place that honors the achievements and sacrifices on behalf of our nation: a veterans cemetery.
It is time we made good on that promise.
More than 1.5 million dedicated men and women in uniform trained and served on the Central Coast at the former Fort Ord, the Presidio, the Naval Postgraduate School, Defense Language Institute, and other world-renowned military facilities. The closest veterans cemetery is located hours away in the Central Valley. We promised veterans and their families that they would not need to drive so far to visit the graves of fellow veterans and loved ones. Hearing this promise, many families of veterans have kept the remains of loved ones for the day when there is a veterans cemetery in the former Fort Ord.
At times, local, state, and federal governments have made slow progress—painfully slow for those waiting with a loved one’s remains in limbo. The federal government’s slow pace is because of rules limiting locations of national veterans cemeteries. The state government will build and run a state veterans cemetery, but only after the local community demonstrates financial support for the project. Monterey County and the city of Seaside control the land and are willing to give the land to the state only if the state uses it for a veterans cemetery.
To complicate matters further, ballot measures K and M in Monterey County both reference the cemetery. However, a careful reading of them reveals that they focus on the land around the veterans cemetery. We are focused on the cemetery itself and plan to move forward regardless of what happens with the ballot measures.
Last year, several local, state, and federal leaders made a commitment to not allow bureaucratic barriers or the controversy over the surrounding land to stand in the way of getting a veterans cemetery built. Our goal is to begin the project as soon as possible. To get progress under way, the city of Seaside and Monterey County agreed to transfer the designated land to the state. Meanwhile, the state has agreed to pursue construction provided that the funds are available.
The price tag to start the project is $9,414,000. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Congressman Sam Farr was successful in securing $6,797,000 from the federal government. Sen. Bill Monning and Assembly member Mark Stone helped pass legislation, which will provide $1 million for the cemetery. We have a solid prospect for another $1 million.
That leaves $617,000 to be raised locally. The state tells us they won’t accept the federal grant unless we have this local contribution raised by mid-October. With little or none of the state and federal money, it is likely the cemetery will be delayed again and again to the detriment of those families who have waited so long. We realize that this is a tough challenge, but not as difficult as the sacrifice made by our veterans and their families.
The Central Coast community is generous, and we need you to continue with that generosity as soon as possible—remember the deadline is mid-October. This is our chance to thank those who were willing to put their lives on the line for us.
Now is the time for all of us to fulfill the promise to those who have given so much for our country and made the Central Coast what it is today. A veterans cemetery in our area will be a lasting memorial of which we can all be proud.
Please visit CCVeteransCemetery.org to make a donation.
Jason Burnett is mayor of Carmel, and Jimmy Panetta is a board member of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Foundation and a veteran of the Afghanistan War. The Central Coast service area includes Santa Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Santa Clara counties. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.