Unlikely partnership works to allow markers on National Guard graves in Nebraska

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 6:30 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In the aftermath of the riots on Capitol Hill last week we’re hearing all sorts of words from our politicians: impeachment, “a divided nation,” unity.

Cemeteries are widespread and sprawling reminders of snapshots in history. The headstones and markers offer glimmers of a past life.

“This bill is so much more than my brother, though,” Allison Heimes said.

The Elkhorn woman ran for Nebraska State Legislature to fix a wrong, but she lost.

“My brother Matthew Myers passed away in 2017. When he passed away, we tried to get him a burial marker to recognize his service and we were denied. That’s where this passion project grew,” she said.

Without the power of being the lawmaker, Heimes turned to the next best thing: the woman who did win the race.

“I wouldn’t have done this bill if Allison hadn’t brought it to me,” State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said. “I’ve worked on it with two senators of the opposite party.”

The bill would allow those who are or have been in the National Guard to be able to receive this permanent memorial marker.

But to understand why it wasn’t allowed in the first place goes back to Vietnam, the war that changed the National Guard.

“There were people who joined the guard to avoid the draft,” Linehan said. “So those that got drafted, they had hard feelings about that. So I understand why at one point that may have been the rule.”

Senators say one of the roadblocks to the military grave markers used to be the National Guard didn’t go overseas much.

“What has happened since is the guard has become the required asset that active-duty needs to be combat effective,” said State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. “We saw that in Iraq and Afghanistan; most of the fighting forces in those wars were National Guard.”

Anymore, the National Guard is a chameleon, shifting from fighters to peacekeepers to disaster fixers.

“We were always just opponents, never enemies, though it means a great deal to me that we can come together as friends and work on this bill together,” Heimes said. “I think our party needs to see that: Democrats and Republicans coming together in a common goal. This bill is about unity.”

And to honor National Guard members like her brother, Matthew.

“I’m looking forward to seeing this marker on other families’ graves.”

The bill is worded in a way that a Nebraska National Guard member is eligible for the gravemarker if they served on or after July 1973.

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