Will Orange County veterans finally get a local cemetery?

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

Orange County veterans have been fighting for a veterans cemetery here for almost 20 years. Sadly, they have recently also been used as pawns in a disgraceful political battle that parallels the mistreatment of returning Vietnam veterans.

Since the closure of the El Toro Marine Air Station, veterans have been promised a final resting place at the historic air base time and again. However, just as that promise was about to be fulfilled, the former mayor of Irvine seized the opportunity to make the proposed veterans cemetery a political wedge issue.

Citing traffic concerns and unfair advantages for a local real estate developer, he launched a vicious attack against the planned veterans cemetery. The attack culminated in a ballot initiative that limited county-wide input by allowing only Irvine residents to vote on building the cemetery. The plan to prevent the veterans cemetery from becoming a reality was based on a misleading public campaign driven by false assertions about traffic, costs, veteran preferences, developer profits and the purpose of the initiative itself. The result of these attack — veterans lost the cemetery they had earned with their service to country.

The disrespect for Orange County’s veterans didn’t stop there. At a recent Irvine City Council meeting, the council discussed a cemetery scheme that would cost $80 million and ultimately bury any real chance of a veterans cemetery being built. Veterans who spoke in opposition were subjected to booing, screaming and verbal attacks that were strikingly similar to the attacks many of them were exposed to upon their return from Vietnam.

But hope remains for the veterans and the veterans cemetery they deserve. An Orange County veterans advocacy group, Veterans Alliance of Orange County, asked the Board of Supervisors to step in and help make the veterans cemetery a reality. In response to that request, the board has agreed to study the issue and review a potential county-owned site for the cemetery near the 91 Freeway and the 241 toll road. This site is already zoned for a cemetery and has cleared initial environmental studies.

The county cemetery site gained more support last week when the Anaheim City Council unanimously voted to participate in the county study. The Anaheim City Council meeting provided a stark contrast to the prior week’s Irvine council meeting. The entire Anaheim City Council was supportive and enthusiastic about pursuing the county site for the veterans cemetery. The public speakers in attendance spoke proudly about how they would be honored if a veterans cemetery was located in or adjacent to their city.

It is not uncommon for my column to criticize or challenge the Board of Supervisors. But in this instance the board members have acted as true leaders, not just voicing support for the county’s veterans, but backing up that support with concrete action. The Anaheim City Council has done the same, and it is my hope that public bodies throughout the County will follow their lead.

We cannot erase the embarrassing and disrespectful attacks that veterans suffered at that Irvine City Council meeting, but we can help ensure that the veterans cemetery they have long been promised finally transcends political gamesmanship and becomes a reality.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: July 31, 2018