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Measure seeks support for Tucson veterans cemetery

PHOENIX – A technicality shouldn’t get in the way of giving Tucson-area families easy access to a veterans cemetery, a state lawmaker contends.

Because the nearest veterans cemetery to Tucson is about 70 miles away in Sierra Vista, followed by Phoenix, a local group has secured land for a cemetery near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has balked at approving the site because of a rule that veterans cemeteries must not be within 75 miles of each other.

A strike-everything amendment to a resolution authored by state Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, would urge the VA and Arizona’s congressional delegation to take action to get the site approved.

Gowan said that while the cemetery would lie within 75 miles of another, the needs of Tucson veterans and their families are so great that an exception should be made.

“I’m of the mind that you do as much as you can for the veterans, people that have done so much for you,” Gowan said.

HCR 2034 won preliminary approval Tuesday from the House, setting up a final vote that would send it to the Senate.

Paul Marsh, a former Pima County supervisor who served in the Army during the Korean War, brought the issue to Gowan’s attention. He has spent years organizing veterans groups as well as state and county officials to persuade the federal government to approve a cemetery.

“The point is we have 125,000 veterans in Tucson alone that need a cemetery, and this monkeying around is a bunch of baloney,” Marsh said in a telephone interview.

“When I get laid to rest, I want to be laid to rest in a veterans cemetery, where I have fellow vets with me,” said Marsh, 77. “Most of the cemeteries in town have veterans sections which are either full or getting very close to being full.”

Charles Stevens, chairman of the Tucson Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Tucson needs the cemetery for its families.

“They have to travel way beyond what would be a reasonable distance,” Stevens said in a telephone interview.

Marsh said creating a cemetery in Tucson would salute the sacrifices of veterans. “The veterans have been doing a lot of good things for the country, but the country has been sticking their nose at us in a lot of ways,” he said.

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