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Mr. SAYLOR. I did not restrict it. I just say I want it expanded so that we can take care of those.
I did not restrict it. No; far be it from me to ever ask that the cemetery system be restricted.
But we have cemeteries that are closed, and have land nearby, adjoining, some of which people have tried to donate to the Federal Government.
I am very much in favor of transferring the jurisdiction of the cemeteries from the Interior Committee to this committee.
Mr. MATTINGLY. Mr. Saylor, the position of the American Legion generally is already established by Resolution 260 of our 1966 convention, and previous resolutions of past conventions, seeking an orderly expansion and/or the establishment of new national cemeteries throughout the country on the basis of need. We appreciate very, very much your interest in this subject, and you may rest assured that the American Legion will support vigorously proposals to accomplish this in the 90th Congress.
Mr. SAYLOR. Good. I am delighted.
Mr. SAYLOR. We might have a little different story if John were up here, but that is all right.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you.
Mr. Dorn. The next witness is my good friend, J. Bates Gerald, national legislative director, and I might say a longtime personal friend who is held in the greatest esteem by the people of South Carolina and by the Members of Congress, here, representing South Carolina and other great States in this Union.
Colonel, I am particularly pleased to present you to the subcommittee and to the group gathered here this morning.
So if you will come forward and introduce your friends and your distinguished national commander, I will be grateful.
STATEMENTS OF WILLIAM H. WALKER, NATIONAL COMMANDER,
VETERANS OF WORLD WAR I OF THE U.S.A., INC., AND J. BATES GERALD, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR
Mr. GERALD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and distinguished members of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
I would like at this time, with your indulgence, sir, to present our national commander, who will make a statement, and I will try to continue the statement as to the position of our organization.
Thank you, sir, very much.
Mr. DoRN. Mr. Commander, we are delighted to have you, of course, and remember very pleasantly being with you last year in San Diego.
And if I am not mistaken, you are visiting South Carolina in the near future.
Mr. GERALD. He has promised to come.
Mr. WALKER. Let's make it mutual. If you will come, I will.
My name is William H. Walker. My hometown is York, Pa., which town lays claim to having been the first capitol of these United States of America, as no doubt Congressman Saylor has heard previously.
I am national commander of the Veterans of World War I of the U.S.A., Inc.
I am indeed most grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to all the members of your distinguished committee, to have this opportunity to come before you and present our views in behalf of our legislative program.
At this time, I would like to introduce to you the members of my staff who are present with me today.
Inasmuch as J. Bates Gerald, has already been introduced, I would like him to still stand up again. He is our legislative chairman of the Veterans of World War I.
Jack Sagray and Philip J. Entinger, the same class; Harry B. Mims, the same class; and Buddy O'Brien, also one of the legislative chairmen; Patrick F. O'Connor, a very good Irishman from Braddock, Pa., our national adjutant; and W. Ed Hudson, our national quartermaster, from New York; Colonel Leonard, our national claims director; LeRoy P. Chittenden, editor of the Torch; and a very efficient secretary, Kathryn Iverson.
Mr. Dorn. Commander, I want to say that you have an outstanding and distinguished group of gentlemen here, and we appreciate the service you are rendering in coming before the committee this morning
I will still remember that when we get to South Carolina.
Mr. WALKER. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I am speaking for approximately 250,000 veterans of World War I, and some 95,000
I missed completely, Mr. Chairman, introducing the ladies of the auxiliary who are present here today. And my sincere apologies.
Donna Carlberg, our national senior vice president, who is representing the national president, Helen Sime, national legislative director, and Marie Mooney, member of the legislative committee.
Now, if I may continue, after those apologies-
Mr. WALKER. We would like at this time to acknowledge with appreciation the efforts of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs in having placed on the benefit rolls about 1,700,000 veterans of World War I and their dependents drawing pension or compensation.
But, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, there still remains about one million World War I veterans who are not on the benefit rolls, many who suffer and have not even the bare necessities of life because of low incomes.
At this point, let me say that we, as an organization, would appreciate an increase in income limitations, elimination of the “pauper's oath” from admittance to a Veterans Administration hospital, and our organization is deeply concerned that any bill to aid our needy members exclude counting of social security benefits and any form of
incomes to which they might have contributed during their productive years, in computing the income of our veterans for pension purposes.
In this connection, we are pleased that the bill introduced by Congressman Rarick of Louisiana excludes the counting of social security payments, as well as many other bills introduced containing these provisions by other Members of Congress.
In regard to Congressman Haley's measure, H.R. 3309, it provides that payments of any kind from any source shall not be counted when the veteran reaches age 72. In other words, when you reach age 72, for all practical purposes, you are presumed to have no income.
In information supplied by the Selective Service, we note there were 53,402 battle deaths, with 63,114 other deaths caused by diseases contacted in the combat zones. In addition, there were also 204,002 who were wounded, but who recovered from their wounds in time.
This, Mr. Chairman, would bring the figure to 267,116 casualties overseas, and this does not include the thousands of World War I soldiers who died in camps here in America.
Now, Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen, I would not attempt to insult your intelligence by a long-drawn-out statement of facts and figures, of which I am certain you are fully aware.
We believe that you are also well aware of the fact that this organization is composed entirely of the boys of 1917–18 who fought what is known as the First World War, and who will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the entry of these United States into World War I within a few weeks.
We served in any capacity that was asked of us, and we were promised many things on our return that we did not get.
The veterans of this war came home and organized what is now the largest group of veterans, the American Legion, and those of us who served overseas also joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
As members of these organizations, we fought for and obtained what is known as the GI bill of rights, so that our sons and daughters would not come back from the Second World War and find it necessary for them to sell apples on the street corners, but would have ample opportunities to further their studies in school or on-the-job training.
We now believe that a grateful Nation and Congress should see that in all fairness to the veteran of World War I, he is given every consideration in his old age to make it unnecessary for him to peddle pencils or apples on the street, or to go begging to the welfare organizations of the various States and Commonwealths for assistance, which benefits are his right, as one who served his country in time of need.
You all know full well all the facts and figures pertaining to veterans of all wars, and might I add, also, you have been indeed kind and considerate, especially as to the needs and desires of our own World War I veterans and their widows and dependents.
You also know that many widows of veterans of World War I have survived their husbands and are on reduced incomes. This, plus the continual increase in the cost of living, places many of our World War I widows in dire need of increased help from your committee.
It has always been the thinking of our organization that we keep in
the forefront the needs of our veterans' widows and other dependents who have survived them. To this end, we seek your continued aid and consideration.
We are opposed to the closing of any national cemetery, relating to the burial of any World War I veterans or widows who may desire to rest in a national cemetery.
And, if I might ad lib a few words, we believe that the cemeteries should be under the authority of this committee.
The World War I veteran with his limited income is in no position to provide a satisfactory burial space in a private cemetery, having been led to believe he would always be allowed burial in a national cemetery.
We believe any veteran should have the right of burial among his comrades of any and all wars.
Our appeal is germane to the requests of the many organizations in sustaining the organization of the national cemeteries for the benefit and interest of all veterans.
Most assuredly, no distinctions should be made as to the capacity that a veteran served to make him eligible for burial in any national cemetery.
We do greatly appreciate the statement made by our President of an increase in pensions of 5.4 percent, and an increase in social security that will not be counted as income and applied against the veterans' pension, but we also feel very deeply that this should be further extended and made retroactive to the other increases granted, so that the veteran will again receive the amount of pension to which he is entitled.
The Veterans of World War I endorse and sponsor H.R. 2068 as a bill that will provide relief for the Veterans of World War I and their widows, as indicated in the above statements of our program.
And now, in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of this distinguished committee, I want to again express, in behalf of myself and the hundreds of thousands of veterans of World War I and their auxiliary I have the honor to represent and serve as their national commander, my deep appreciation for your continued support and interest in our welfare.
Gentlemen, if there are any questions that you would like to ask, I will attempt, at least, to answer them. Otherwise, I will turn it back to our legislative chairman.
Mr. Donn. I want to thank you for a very fine statement, and express on behalf of the subcommittee our appreciation for your coming and giving us the benefit of your forthright testimony.
Mr. SAYLOR. Mr. Commander, I want to also commend you for your statement. I think you have been very forthright in what you
have presented to this committee.
I would just like to ask a few questions of you, as national commander, to try and find out why your organization has not taken up certain other legislation affecting and granting benefits to you as Veterans of World War I.
For example, Congress, some years ago, determined that the records kept in the Spanish-American War were so bad that it was impossible to determine who, serving overseas, and in Florida, at that time, actually had had service-connected disability, and so they passed a special act and said that anybody who served between certain dates in the Spanish-American War was automatically service connected for certain purposes.
Why does not your organization ask Congress to declare that all World War I veterans who served overseas are now service connected ?
This is 50 years later. Everybody knows that the conditions under which the men fought in the trenches in World War I are probably as primitive as anything that modern man has endured, and everybody knows that the records that were kept were meager, at best.
I just wonder why you have not taken this approach.
I can speak from personal reasons, because of the fact that in World War I, I had a gun explode in my left ear. I have never been able to get any connection whatsoever between it and my service-connected discharge.
At the present time I am totally deaf in my left ear. In fact, I will go further and say that I have never actually tried too hard, but I did endeavor at one time to get the connection.
And in answer to your other questions, the only reason that I can see right now is that we are not financially able to delve into too many of these facts that you have brought up, and I feel that our organization has picked up many, many details that we had not entirely thought of doing when we were first organized, and as we go along, we are attempting to pick up some.
For instance, this cemetery detail and some of the other details, that directly affect the veterans of World War I.
Mr. SAYLOR. I have been concerned for some period of time with regard to the treatment of World War I veterans. Last year I had prepared and introduced a piece of legislation, and I have reintroduced it again this year.
It calls for a special pension for World War I veterans. It is based upon the following: $5 a month for every month you were in service from April 6, 1917, to September 1, 1919, and $10 a month for overseas service,
A fraction of a month shall be considered a whole month-with a ceiling of $150, and no income limitation.
A widow who has been married for 5 years gets half of her husband's pension.
I thought I had done a pretty good job, and I was sort of let down a little bit, here, by the fact that you did not even mention it.
I don't know whether you knew about it, or did not. Mr. WALKER. We did; yes, Congressman. We knew about it. However, it is up to our legislative committee to come up with their thinking, and then supply our national commander" with that information.
And we are very mindful of the fact that your bill has been presented year after year, you might say, and we think a lot of it, but I for one, although I am a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, cannot exactly see the idea of paying me for having served overseas, when he stayed here and served.