Thursday, March 04, 2010

Va. War Memorial compromises go to conference committee

Posted to: General Assembly News Virginia

By Bill Sizemore

The Virginian-Pilot

© March 3, 2010


In an eleventh-hour turn of events Wednesday, a Senate committee balked at a plan to create a two-tier system for honoring Virginia's war dead.

Now the emotional issue that has pitted veteran against veteran likely will have to be resolved by a House-Senate conference committee in the waning days of the General Assembly.

As passed by the House, Del. Bill Janis' bill, HB767, would have restricted the names inscribed on the Shrine of Memory at the Virginia War Memorial to veterans killed by enemy action, qualifying them for the Purple Heart medal. All others who die on active duty would be included on a new, separate memorial wall to be built nearby.

Janis' measure had the support of the memorial's board of trustees, of which he is a member, and the American Legion. It was opposed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who would like to see more inclusive criteria for the glass-and-marble shrine in Richmond.

The two sides faced off before the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in a heated debate that left some members of the committee agonizing over having to side with one veterans group over the other.

“I hate having to make this call,” said Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield County.

In the end the panel adopted a substitute proposal offered by Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, widening the criteria for inclusion on the shrine to include all veterans killed or missing in action in a Pentagon-designated combat area under honorable conditions.

“It's a matter of simple fairness,” Miller said.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg County, agreed: “I cannot accept the concept of having an A list and a B list.”

Janis, R-Henrico County, argued that Miller's approach still doesn't avoid relegating some of Virginia's dead to secondary status. He argued that the separate memorial would be more inclusive than Miller's proposal because it would pay tribute to anyone who died while on active duty, such as a service member who died of heat stroke during training in the U.S.

What may have tipped the balance on the committee was the determined lobbying of Rick Schumann, a Newport News man whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Darrell Schumann, was killed in a helicopter crash in the Iraq desert in 2005. Under Janis' bill, he would not qualify for inclusion on the shrine because the helicopter was not brought down by enemy fire.

“All those who make the ultimate sacrifice should be honored,” Schumann told the panel.

Several senators also took note of an analysis by The Virginian-Pilot that found about one in six of the nearly 12,000 names now inscribed on the wall were non-combat-related deaths.

Bill Sizemore, (804) 697-1560 (804) 697-1560,

--submitted by Patti Woodard

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