Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Ray Saikus

Vietnam Veteran, U.S. Army, 1968-69

Rimantas (Ray) Saikus
Vietnam Veteran 1968-69
173rd Airborne Brigade
Testimony
Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands
Hearing on S. 2419 and H.R. 4882, bills to ensure the proper remembrance
of Vietnam veterans and the Vietnam War by providing a deadline for
the designation of a visitor center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
May 16, 2006

Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee for this opportunity to
testify on behalf of myself and the family of my best friend, Steve Mylant, a U.S. Marine, who was killed in Vietnam in 1967; my fellow Vietnam Veterans; and my fellow citizens, who are in concert with the statements and concerns to be presented here but could not attend. My testimony is directed to your deliberations regarding S. 2419 and H.R. 4882, bills to ensure the proper remembrance of Vietnam veterans and the Vietnam War by providing a deadline for the designation of a visitor center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

I have made this trip in the midst of a monumental task -- helping to organize the
placement of Memorial Day flags honoring the 120,000-plus veterans buried in more than 150 cemeteries throughout Greater Cleveland in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. I am the Vice-President of the Memorial Day Association of Greater Cleveland.

But the course of action that the House of Representatives has taken with bill H.R. 4882
and the Senate is considering with bill S. 2419, alarmed me and moved me to participate in this hearing in memory of those who we honor on Memorial Day. If this bill is enacted, it would bring into light a painful reality about what value we place as a nation on the beliefs and sacrifices of those who gave their lives for their country and those who serve or served in the past. My fellow veterans and myself served and placed our lives on the line with the belief that, as we brought freedom and self-determination to others throughout the world, we were guaranteeing the same for our families and our fellow citizens. The right and ability of ordinary citizens to participate in our government is what these bills would strip from the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served and the citizens. It would take away the opportunity to benefit from the still gravely needed healing process that the site selection and design process for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitors Center can bring.

I can assure you from my personal experience that the laws which would be preempted
by these bills – laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic
Preservation Act – are fundamental to the rights of citizens in our democracy, and are effective ways for citizens to participate in our government. The House of Representatives seems to perceive citizen involvement as a nuisance that should be eliminated. But it is important to understand that, by shutting off these well-established public comment procedures, Congress would be silencing the voices of Vietnam veterans themselves, as well as their families, and denying veterans the ability to have any say at all in the location and design of their visitor center.

I have had the privilege of participating in volunteer organizations, as a veteran and as a
citizen, dedicated to honoring our heritage and honoring those who served. As a Mechanical Engineer and member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, now ASME International, I had the honor of successfully nominating two icons of our nation’s industrial heritage, the Steamship William G. Mather and the Hulett Iron Ore Unloaders in Cleveland, for designation as ASME International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. So I have a special appreciation for the importance of protecting our heritage, which these bills would undermine. I would like to cite four examples in which I have been personally involved, where the process of public involvement by veterans, including through the very laws that Congress is considering preempting here, is having a meaningful effect.

·  I was a co-founder of Greater Cleveland Veterans Memorial Inc., an organization in
Cleveland that reclaimed Marshall Frederick’s "Fountain of Eternal Life", a onceabandoned
monument and plaza originally dedicated to honor those who died during
WWII and the Korean War. In a process that took over 10 years, we participated to
guarantee the monument's proper refurbishment and to bring about its expanded scope,
one honoring all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country from Cuyahoga
County, beginning with the Spanish-American War up to and including the present Iraq
and Afghanistan Wars. Over 5500 names are now engraved on plaques around the
fountain.

·  On another occasion, we Vietnam Veterans of Northeast Ohio had to fight to retain the
name of “Vietnam Veterans of American Highway” from being changed to “Hall of
Fame Highway,” a proposal that had been developed and advanced without any
consultation at all with the veterans.

·  In another area of Cleveland, Rockefeller Park, trees were planted with plaques at their
bases in memory of the 800-plus soldiers from the County that were killed in action in
World War I. Rockefeller Park is also the site for four other veterans-related memorials,
the American Colonial Garden with a monument to those who perished at Pearl Harbor,
the Brotherhood Shrine Garden with a monument in memory of the four Chaplains who
gave their lives to save our troops, the American Legion Peace Garden of the Nations and
the American Legion Peace Garden of the United States. This area, once abandoned by
the city, has been continually restored during the last twenty years by volunteers and has
become a pristine area in honor of those WWI soldiers, the other veteran memorials, with
pride in the heritage of Rockefeller Park and Cleveland's Cultural Gardens. Then the
Doan Brook “Restoration” project was introduced by the FAA in an attempt to mitigate
damage to wetlands and streams from the expansion of the Cleveland Airport. However,
the veterans were totally excluded from this decision-making process, even though the
veterans were the earliest and among the most affected stakeholders. The remediation
design called for imposing extensive blotchy sections of wild growth, demolishing
retaining walls, and creating a look of abandonment, with major safety problems for
volunteers, residents and visitors. Fortunately for us veterans, the National Trust for
Historic Preservation advised us about the proposed project. The veterans immediately
rallied to the defense of a place of honor for those who cannot defend it themselves. Yet
our requests to reopen the decision were rejected by the FAA and the Advisory Council
on Historic Preservation, even though the project was running into other problems as a
result of bids that far exceeded estimated costs. The veterans informed them that the
Doan Brook “Restoration” project was a misnomer and misled us into assuming that they
were fixing the retaining walls and improving the area . Though this conflict has not yet
been resolved, we are confident that the process will eventually be effective.

·  On another project in Cleveland, four of the last remaining Hulett Iron Ore Unloaders
were the subject of a legal battle in Federal Court in which I was one of the Plaintiffs
against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not complying with Section 106 of the
National Historic Preservation Act. We lost two of the four Huletts to demolition when
the Army Corps issued a dredging permit without even considering preservation of the
Huletts. With the help of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, however, we were
vindicated by a federal court, and the dredging permit was revoked. Six years later, the
Port Authority is re-applying for a permit and the National Historic Preservation Act is
empowering us to defend and preserve for future generations the remaining two Huletts,
icons of this country's ingenuity and its industrious people.

Because we as citizens and veterans were left out of many of these processes, I am one of
the voices for those who want to make sure that the families of those who made the ultimate
sacrifice, those who still have both physical and emotional scars from the Vietnam War as well as their families, and the veterans who served, have an opportunity to be heard on how we are going to memorialize and interpret the story of their sacrifice, and alleviate their pain and suffering, and especially how we are going to help them and our nation heal. Our soldiers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world will find comfort knowing that on our watch the freedoms and rights of their families to participate in the government decision-making process are being protected, especially when many of them are sons and daughters of Vietnam Veterans.

Congress has created the procedures for citizens to participate and bring forth their
visions. Since this Visitor Center will be built on public federal property or with the support of public funds or services, then all interested citizens, including the veterans themselves, deserve to be heard and have their right to participate defended and protected by this Congress.

My personal healing has come a long way because I have been able to participate in the
administrative process that influences the decisions of our government. Gentlemen and ladies, through your actions you can help other veterans and the nation heal. Please do not disrupt the ability of others to heal by taking away their right to participate in the public process that will help to decide the location and design of our Visitor Center.

The WWII and Korean Veterans waited longer than the Vietnam Veterans for their
memorials. A little wait by us Vietnam Veterans and families through this process will give an opportunity for the end product to be a significant and memorable addition to our "Wall" and one that those honored on the "Wall" deserve. Taking the additional time to allow a public process would also give the Vietnam Veterans themselves the opportunity to participate in influencing the location and design of the new Visitor Center. The bill as proposed would completely shut us out of that discussion.

We respect and salute those who have championed the cause to honor those who gave
their all during the Vietnam War, and those who served. Now is the time to reflect on their
accomplishments, cherish the legacy that they have left, and let not haste and exclusion taint
their good deeds.