The orbs, or mysterious lights believed to be manifestations of the departed, are said to appear in parts of the 20,365-acre cemetery particularly on All Saints’ Day, when most of the 20,000 graves remain unvisited, unlighted even as other cemeteries nationwide brighten up with votive candles as relatives gather to remember their dead.
But for the apparently discontented orbs, former US navy officer Dennis Wright, president and chief executive officer of Peregrine, an international management company here, has good news. This November, the stolen steel fence of the cemetery will be replaced by a “stately” concrete wall with columns that could make the otherwise drab cemetery an interest for tourists. The project will be funded by his firm and its associates in the Global Gateway Logistics City project in this freeport.
In an interview with Punto, Wright said US military veterans, including prominent Filipinos, have already formed the Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration Association now registered in Oklahoma to “create awareness” and lobby for US federal funding for the cemetery here.
He said information about the non-profit association could be accessed in the association’s website www.cvcra.org.
Members of the US Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2485 based in nearby Angeles City have deplored the “neglect” of the US government in preserving the cemetery since the US Air Force left its base here in 1991. At present, the VFA maintains the cemetery through donations from its members.
The VFW wants the US to negotiate with the Philippine government so the cemetery could be administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a federal agency, or the National Cemetery Administration, a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Clark cemetery is the only place in this former US Air Force base, which used to be the biggest American military base outside US mainland until 1991, where the US flag still flutters alongside the Philippine flag. A marker at the entrance to the cemetery explains this, noting that the cemetery “contains non-World War II related remains” and that it is “the last active US Armed Forces cemetery outside of the US.”
“Graves date back to 1900”, the marker said, adding that the remains under the tombstones, made either of granite or marble, belonged to personnel “from all branches of the US Armed Forces, as well as the Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary and citizens of other nations.” Some of the remains are relatively new, including a Filipino-American soldier and a civilian employee of the US Department of Defense who both died in Iraq.
While the sight of uniform tombstones could bore tourists, markers on tombstones at the Clark cemetery stir the imagination. Was German Harry Slater, born Nov. 21, 1875 and whose tombstone declares “He saw World War I”, on the side of Allied Forces against his native Germany in the first war? Was John Callera actually a Spaniard who was also on the side of American forces, so that his tombstone now notes simply “Span-Am War” to denote this?
And as for obviously Chinese Kong Mah, Yao Ah, and Foo Chan- were they fine cooks for the US military at he turn of the 19th century?
Have relatives in the US ever known that at the Clark cemetery lie the remains of Wallace Eligha Dowd of North Carolina, Lester James Lawrence of Michigan, Richard King of California, Charles Claude Hunman of Maryland, Reuben Melvin Austin of Illinois? Perhaps never, but cemetery visitors here will always read their names at every visit and perhaps pray for them.
Meanwhile, motorists passing through Clark’s main Roxas highway will again probably ignore the Clark cemetery on their way to their own family cemeteries outside on Nov. 1. Unless their attention is called by orbs that are said to hover like colorful balls over the tombstones in an apparent bid of the forgotten departed to be noticed. And prayed for.