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Vote coming on Jewish chaplain memorial

May. 19, 2011 - 07:02PM   |   Last Updated: May. 19, 2011 - 07:02PM  |  
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Legislation approving the placement of a long-delayed memorial to Jewish chaplains on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery is expected to pass the House next week, along with a proposed overhaul of the process for approving memorials to prevent similar delays in the future.

One problem, however, is that combining the two initiatives in a single bill could further delay the memorial, although House Veterans' Affairs Committee aides say that may not matter.

The privately funded memorial to 13 Jewish chaplains who have died on active duty has been in the planning stages since 2006, but it has been held up because Army officials who oversee the national cemetery said they needed Congress to pass a resolution supporting the project.

Legislation was introduced last summer after cemetery officials told supporters of the requirement, but it got lost in the pre-election shuffle, delaying the groundbreaking.

Now, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, has combined the required resolution — which supports placement of the 7-foot granite and bronze memorial on Chaplains Hill — with a new process for approving future memorials.

Miller's plan, passed by the veterans' committee on May 14 by voice vote, reduces the role of Congress. Rather than requiring lawmakers to pass a joint or concurrent resolution approving a commemorative monument, the bill, HR 1627, gives Congress only final veto power.

Under proposed procedures, cemetery officials would decide if a memorial meets their policies, including being privately funded, appropriate, accurate, and in most cases marking an event or death that happened at least 25 years earlier. Before final approval, 60 days of public notice would have to be provided, allowing time for Congress to pass a motion of disapproval. If the disapproval resolution is signed by the president, a project could be killed. Congress would have the opportunity to override a presidential veto of the resolution, under provisions of the bill.

The bill, called the Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011, also prohibits reserving gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery, a practice Army officials said they already halted.

The House is scheduled to pass the bill next week as one of several veteran-related measures being taken up in advance of Memorial Day.

Legislative limbo?

Under normal legislative procedure, Miller's mixing of the resolution with additional legislation would bog down final approval of the memorial unless the Senate passes the same bill. However, Miller aides said they have been assured by the Army that they'll accept House passage of HR 1627 and Senate passage of a resolution of support as expressing the approval of Congress without waiting for the House and Senate to pass identical measures.

In January, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and Sen. Charles Shumer, D-N.Y., both introduced resolutions of approval for the memorial. Senate passage of Shumer's resolution, SConRes 4, would be sufficient for the Jewish chaplains memorial to proceed, Miller aides said.

Weiner, testifying May 3 before the veterans' committee in support of his resolution, HConRes 12, said his legislation was "simple and straightforward" and that passage of the resolution is "all that is standing between Arlington Cemetery and a memorial for Jewish chaplains."

Correcting a longtime oversight

Weiner said credit for the memorial belongs to Ken Kraetzner, the son of a World War II veteran who discovered — while researching the story of four chaplains who perished during the 1943 sinking of a Navy ship after giving up their lifejackets to soldiers — that the Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Alexander Goode, was not memorialized, while there were memorials that mentioned the two Protestants and one Catholic chaplain.

Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of the Jewish Welfare Board that supports the memorial, said, "Members of the Jewish faith have served our country since the days of the American Revolution, and Jewish chaplains have bravely served alongside. Their valor should be remembered in the same way that other chaplains are remembered."

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