By Sue Pascoe
Retired Army Colonel Dick Littlestone, a long-time Palisadian, fought the Veterans Administration bureaucracy, and won.
His multi-year campaign finally resulted in a groundbreaking ceremony on November 15 for a columbarium that will hold the ashes of nearly 100,000 veterans on West L.A. VA property.
“I have been communicating with VA Secretaries for 20 years regarding a columbarium annex here at the L.A. National Cemetery for vets since it was entirely closed to new burials and inurnments in 1996,” said Littlestone, 94, in a November email to the News.
“I got it approved and funded by the Secretary in 2007,” Littleston noted. “I’ve been fighting the bureaucracy ever since to get it going. They should start construction this year.”
There were numerous dignitaries at the groundbreaking, who praised the project and Littlestone, but no one asked the 1947 West Point graduate with 32 years of service in the Army to speak. He was asked why. “Surprising. Je ne sais pas [I don’t know],” he said in an email to the News.
Littlestone’s quest began about 1997 when he learned the nearest national cemetery for Los Angeles veterans was located in Riverside, more than 75 miles from the Palisades. He said he didn’t want his wife Doris to have to travel all that way to visit him after he’s gone.
He envisioned using VA land, adjacent to L.A. National Cemetery where Breitburn Energy stored oil pipes and equipment for drilling on the Sawtelle Oil Field (under the 405 and the L.A. National Cemetery).
Gregory Brown, Breitburn’s chief administrative office, wrote Littlestone in a 2013 e-mail, “We were willing to swap the site in question for an equivalent amount of land just to the south of our main operation area.”
Then nothing happened. For years. Littlestone, a determined soul, started contacting Congressional members and the press. His quest was featured on television and print, and even former Representative Henry Waxman spoke in favor of the columbarium. Waxman said, “I have worked on behalf of elderly veterans for nearly ten years to urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to construct the Columbarium at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. It is difficult to understand why the VA has not made progress on a project that was approved in 2007, is clearly needed, has no opposition, and is supported by elderly veterans and their families.”
A 2014 Post 283 News story reported that the VA said they “did not go forward with the project because of the lawsuit involving the West L.A. campus (Valentini v. Shinseki),” Littlestone said. “The VA is using the suit as an excuse not to do anything.”
Finally, at the beginning of 2015, there was a settlement and it was announced that “Secretary McDonald will also launch an accelerated process to develop a new long-term Master Plan for the future use of the West Los Angeles campus.
Would the Master Plan take into account a Columbarium?
VA spokesperson Nikki Baker told the Post 283 News at that time, “An expansion to the columbarium will be included.”
Now, almost three years later, the groundbreaking has taken place.
Littlestone served as a battalion operations officer in Korea and a logistics officer in Vietnam, and later was chair of the UCLA Department of Military Science. He and Doris have been married for 69 years and have three children, Richard, Nanette and Mark.
For more information, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYRswXyHAYQ.