ANGELES CITY, Republic of the Philippines - Twenty-four USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) Sailors and 24 marines from the Philippine Marine Corps cleaned up a small cemetery as part of a community service project, Feb. 14.
"It always feels great to support others in need of help and give back to the community," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (SW/AW) Calithea A. Sheppard. "It was a great thing to do, and I learned a lot of history that I did not know about."
Clark Cemetery is home to the remains of 8,649 service members from all branches of the United States Armed Forces, as well as the Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary and their dependents, dating back to 1900s.
Larry Heilhecker, Clark Cemetery chairman for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States of America Post 2485, said the Navy and local service members in the Philippine armed forces are big supporters of the cemetery, and their contributions are always greatly appreciated.
"It never gets old seeing the Navy here volunteering their time," Heilhecker said. "We are glad to have you here anytime."
The cemetery relies on donations to maintain the grounds. VFW does not receive funding from either the U.S. or Philippine government, and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs only provides American flags and engraved marble head stones, according to Heilhecker.
In November 1991, the U.S. Air Force departed the Philippines, turning over ownership of the grounds to the Philippine air force. Two years later, the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) agreed to take care of the cemetery.
However, VFW decided to take ownership of the cemetery in November 1994, because the CDC did not keep the grounds up to standard, Heilhecker said.
"We rely on the help of volunteers from the Navy who come throughout the year and the paid local Filipinos," Heilhecker said. "It is great to see the Navy adopt us."
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (SW) Kevin M. Abney, USS Blue Ridge, said it was gratifying to work alongside the Philippine marines and to meet someone who reminded him of himself.
"Like me, he has a wife and daughter," Abney said. "He joined the service because of how bad the economy got and wanted to make sure he could provide for his family. It's not every day you meet someone from another country who is similar to you."