• Pacific Island Times Staff

Legislators oppose vets cemetery regulations

Two senators say Guam's cultural heritage, rather than the VA should make the rules

Guam Sens. Kelly Marsh-Taitano and Jose "Pedo" Terlaje have introduced Resolution No. 72-35 (COR), which strongly opposes the longstanding federal law that bans commemorative tributes on graves at the Guam Veterans Cemetery and requests that Guam be exempt from this legal requirement.

The resolution offers a lengthy history of elaborate Guam funeral practices which the authors say were observed by Father San Vitores when he arrived on Guam in the early 1600s.

“The tradition of adorning a loved one’s grave with personal tributes is an expression of love, sympathy, and continued connectedness to the land, the family, and the clan and can be traced back thousands of years. It is a special part of the collective grieving experience that is shared in Indigenous and intimate communities such as Guam,” stated Senator Marsh-Taitano.

Senator Jose “Pedo” Terlaje stated, “The federal government needs to recognize that although we love our country, our cultural practices may differ from those in the continental United States. All we ask in this resolution is for the ability to continue to practice the traditions taught to us by our Mothers and their Mothers before them.”

Acting Director of the Guam Veterans Affairs Office Fred Bordallo said that the office has "the utmost respect" for traditional island funeral practices, but that it must be recognized that the rules at VA cemeteries apply across the board throughout the United States. Compliance is regularly inspected by the VA.

"Our huge local veterans community is well aware that there are rules unique to the military during their service and afterwards," Bordallo said. "These rules are part of what they signed up for and offered their honorable service to our country."

Bordallo said his predecessors have worked to assure that Guam's VA cemeteries reflect existing law.

The authors of the resolutions intend to hold a public hearing on Resolution 72 on Wednesday, Mar. 27 for concerned families and veterans to share their testimony.

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