Congress takes action to protect military gravesites

Congress takes action to protect military gravesites

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Lt. Jared Landaker was killed in the line of duty in Iraq seven years ago. On Feb. 7, his family was shocked to see his final resting place at the Riverside National Cemetery had turned into a construction zone as grave markers were rolled over by heavy machinery and plucked from the ground.

"It was hard. It was the seventh anniversary of his death, to encounter that at the same time was hard for all of us," said Stacie Hernandez, Landaker's childhood friend from La Quinta.

Hernandez joined Landaker's family to call for change, they reached out to the community and Congressman Paul Cook, a veteran himself, for help.

"They sent pictures and just the pictures were disturbing," said Cook.

Riverside National Cemetery spokesman Jim Ruester said the cemetery is nearing the end of a two-year renovation project to make the memorial park more beautiful, but the unsettling glimpse of what should be sacred, was enough for Cook and Rep. Mark Takano to take action. They've already met with the Veterans Affairs Office to implement a "dignity clause" for all National Cemeteries.  

"When a contractor goes in there, they have to be respectful of how they are doing things to these memorials," said Cook.

It's not a bill, just a way congress hopes to hold cemetary administrators accountable.

"That is the main responsibility of the administrator. You can't just push it off to the contractor and say 'Do what you want to do,'" said Cook.

"It kind of restores my faith in the process," said Hernandez. "It's bittersweet. It's sad it had to happen but the fact a lot of people stepped in to help us I'm truly grateful that."

Ruester said the cemetery is working to ensure this doesn't happen again. The project should be finished by Memorial Day.

Hernandez said their goal is to pay respect to those who served their country and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"The heartbreak you feel, it's hard enough to lose someone who's a hero. The fact no one has to go through this is a relief for us," she said.

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