Beaufort Gazette: Community should help Wilson push cemetery bill

Jan 11, 2010

Community should help Wilson push cemetery bill
By admin
Created 01/06/2010 - 05:00

 U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson promises a stronger effort this year toward expansion of the Beaufort National Cemetery, and we hope it comes true.

Wilson says his effort is inspired by the unexpected death last month of local military hero and veterans' advocate Jimmie Leach of Lady's Island. Leach worked for expansion of the cemetery. Maybe Wilson can use Leach's example to convince his colleagues in Congress to move a bill he introduced in 2008 out of subcommittee and to the House floor for a positive vote.
Leach, who died Dec. 17 at 87, was a World War II veteran and five-time recipient of the Purple Heart. He was a former adviser to the S.C. adjutant general, and he led the Veterans Cemetery Committee of Beaufort. The committee pushed for expansion on the historic Beaufort National Cemetery, where Leach and more than 19,000 other service members and their families are buried.

The cemetery currently has burial space to last through 2030. Expansion opportunities are limited, and Wilson's bill targets a logical move that might not be possible much longer. H.R. 217 calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase five acres occupied by Lafayette Square apartments for about $3 million.
"This is something that needs to be done before this property is developed in another way," Wilson said. "The merit of this is so clear to me."

It also should be clear to anyone who visits the peaceful, hallowed burial grounds that help provide Beaufort its unique character. Perhaps Wilson can convince members of key committees that they should visit the Beaufort National Cemetery, where representatives of every American conflict rest beneath oaks that may date to the creation of the cemetery by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

"Beaufort National Cemetery is deeply embedded in the history and culture of our community," said Bernie Bowse, director of the cemetery. "The people who come here and our community leaders have a deep love and affection for the cemetery as part of our history."

Memorial Day ceremonies have been held there since the day was marked primarily by African-Americans and known as Decoration Day. That tradition continues, and the cemetery is also the backdrop for Veterans Day services.
Veterans and community leaders throughout Beaufort County should ask Wilson what they can do to help him move H.R. 217 through Congress. We all should make it a higher priority this year.

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