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America’s Veterans and their Families




STATEMENT OF KATHERINE STEVENSON,

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES,NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

 BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON DISABILITY ASSISTANCE & MEMORIAL AFFAIRS

OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS,

FOR THE OVERSIGHT HEARING ENTITLED

"HONORING THE FALLEN: HOW CAN WE BETTER

SERVE AMERICA'S VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES?"

September 24, 2009 

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your invitation to appear at this hearing on honoring fallen veterans to discuss the national cemeteries that are administered by the National Park Service. We consider it a great honor to serve our veterans and their families at these national cemeteries and we are committed to ensuring that our cemeteries are maintained at a standard worthy of those who fought for our county.We are particularly pleased to have the opportunity to inform the subcommittee about the work we have done to improve the condition of the cemeteries under our stewardship since we last testified before you on this subject on May 8, 2007.

Background on National Park Service Cemeteries

The National Park Service (NPS) administers 14 of our nation's national cemeteries.With the exception of Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Tennessee and Custer National Cemetery at Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, the cemeteries that the NPS manages date to the Civil War.Most of these cemeteries are located within park units that tell the story of the Civil War campaign or conflict in which the interred soldiers served.A list of all NPS national cemeteries and the sites with which they are associated is included at the end of this testimony.

Many of the Civil War national cemeteries, established soon after the war ended, were located at or near the battlefield itself.In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Civil War veterans and their families began to pay tribute to their fallen comrades by erecting monuments and memorials.Beginning in 1933, jurisdiction over many of these national battlefields, national historic sites, and national military parks, including the monuments, memorials and national cemeteries, was transferred to the NPS.The NPS manages these sites respectfully, interpreting military campaigns, conflicts, and ordeals that the soldiers endured.These sites, including the national cemeteries, are visited by thousands of people each year who learn of the veterans' sacrifices and want to pay their respects to these veterans. Visitors are provided interpretive information about the cemeteries themselves.At Stones River National Cemetery, for example, there is a display about the local African-American community that was formed from the laborers who constructed the cemetery.

Two of the national cemeteries administered by the National Park Service remain open to veterans for burial.They are Andersonville National Cemetery, located in Southwest Georgia, and Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, located in East Tennessee.In 2008, 158 veterans and their dependents were interred at Andersonville and 53 were interred at Andrew Johnson.

Operation of National Cemeteries

The NPS follows the same rules and regulations for burials at its national cemeteries that apply to cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).The NPS also follows the M40 series of manuals written by VA's National Cemetery Administration (NCA) for operation of national cemeteries.NPS orders headstones from the same facilities that produce headstones for NCA-managed cemeteries, adheres to standards for placement and alignment of stones, and replaces headstones that need second inscriptions for spouses.

Cemetery Care Practices

Recent concerns have been expressed regarding the appearance of the national cemeteries managed by the NPS.The NPS takes pride in serving as a guardian of the nation's historic treasures, including its national cemeteries.Because these cemeteries are part of the historic fabric of the park units, certain maintenance practices are different from those used by the NCA.

For example, the NPS places a high value on maintaining the historic appearance of the national cemeteries, including retaining as many original headstones as possible, particularly the more historic headstones. Consequently, NPS realigns stones less frequently than NCA, and does it by hand, rather than machine, in order to avoid damaging the stones.NPS also cleans headstones using a pressure washer, rather than bleaching chemicals, in order to better preserve the lettering and the surface of the stone.This may result in headstones that are greyer than headstones maintained by VA but it also results in the long-term preservation of the headstones.In addition, NPS normally replaces dead trees to maintain the historic landscape.Therefore, NPS cemeteries have more tree cover than other national cemeteries.Shade encourages microbial growth on headstones and makes it hard for grass to grow.Tree roots also make it harder to maintain headstone alignment.

Because of our expertise in preservation, others, including federal agencies such as the NCA, have turned to the NPS's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) for guidance on cemetery care. Presentations given by NCPTT either through in-person workshops or electronic means on the conservation of cemeteries or materials directly applicable to cemeteries had 205 participants in 2007, 239 in 2008, and 146 so far in 2009. NCPTT has been consulted for help with care of monuments at Congressional Cemetery and with the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.NCPTT was also hired by the NCA to conduct a study on chemical cleaners to find an alternative to its current products for cleaning headstones.We are pleased to serve as such a resource.

Investments in Cemetery Care

The NPS continues to invest in our national cemeteries.Since the NPS testimony two years ago, at which time we reported that over $1 million in project funds had been spent in the prior 5 years on cemetery repair projects, project funds for national cemeteries have increased dramatically. In FY 2008 and FY 2009, NPS has invested about $4.5 million in cemetery repair projects in addition to funding for routine maintenance.This figure includes $1.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.These projects include replacing and aligning historic headstones, storm cleanup, repairing and repointing historic walls that surround our cemeteries, removing hazardous trees, and repairing structures.Another $1.9 million in supplemental emergency storm and flood relief funding is being spent on the visitor center that serves Chalmette National Cemetery and Chalmette Battlefield, in Louisiana, which was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to these projects, each unit of the National Park Service with a national cemetery also has maintenance staff who dedicate at least part of their time to maintaining headstones and grounds.Operating budgets for every one of these parks have increased in each of the last two fiscal years.

As discussed above, NPS also invests in cemetery maintenance by providing training in this area to interested persons and agencies.In addition, some NPS employees have taken courses at the NCA National Training Center in St. Louis, which have been very valuable.

Review of National Park Service Cemeteries

The NPS is in the process of completing a review of the care of its national cemeteries.In July, a team of NPS experts made site visits to the cemeteries at Andersonville, Andrew Johnson, Stones River, and Fort Donelson, as well as a NCA cemetery in Nashville for comparison.The review will provide detail on the differences between the NPS and NCA practices in cemetery care.It may also contain recommendations to the NPS Director to address some of the cemetery appearance issues that Ranking Member Steve Buyer has raised.

The NPS is committed to ensuring that our national cemeteries appropriately honor those who have fought for our country.We will continue to work with the VA on these issues.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks.I would be happy to answer any questions members of the committee may have.

 

 

National Cemeteries and Associated National Park System Units

Andersonville National Cemetery at Andersonville National Historic Site, Georgia;

Andrew Johnson National Cemetery at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Tennessee;

Antietam National Cemetery at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland;

Battleground National Cemetery at Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia;

Chalmette National Cemetery at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Louisiana;

Custer National Cemetery at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana;

Fort Donelson National Cemetery at Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Tennessee;

Fredericksburg National Cemetery at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Virginia;

Gettysburg National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania;

Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia;

Shiloh National Cemetery at Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee;

Stones River National Cemetery at Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee;

Vicksburg National Cemetery at Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi; and

Yorktown National Battlefield at Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia.