US and Philippine officials signed an agreement today for Washington to restore a cemetery north of Manila where the graves of thousands of US veterans and dependents have been covered in ash since Mount Pinatubo's 1991 eruption. The accord calls for the American Battle Monuments Commission to repair and maintain the Clark Veterans Cemetery for at least 10 years. "This brings to a close a three-year campaign effort to get the US cemetery to be remembered," says one US veteran. "We used to call it the cemetery that America forgot."
The US Air Force hastily abandoned Clark Air Base, where the cemetery is located, after Mount Pinatubo's eruption. In 1994, American veterans were shocked to find the 17-acre cemetery covered in ash and weeds with half of its old steel fence looted. Although the cemetery looks tidier today, it is still covered by about a foot of ash, partially burying tombstones and obscuring names, dates, and epitaphs. One retired Army vet who heads a group of American veterans at Clark said an initial US investment of $5 million would bring the cemetery on par with other landcaped burial grounds of US veterans around Manila. The cemetery holds the remains of 8,600 people, including 2,200 Americans and nearly 700 allied Philippine Scouts. (Read more Philippines stories.)