SKIPPACK - Nothing spoils the scenic view of a rural landscape quite like the towering gray walls of a prison.
On Monday morning, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., toured a proposed site for a veteran's cemetery near Graterford state prison, knowing full well that area veterans are opposed to the location.
Even to someone standing a mile from the prison in a cow pasture, the fortress-like walls are easy to make out in the distance.
A Department of Veteran Affairs official, Ronald Pemberton, said trees have been proposed as a way to hide the sight of the correctional facility. However, a quick survey of the parcel suggests many mature trees would have to be planted to block the view.
"I think you're going to see the wall no matter what," he said. A berm has also been proposed as a visual barrier.
Pemberton said a road leading to a national cemetery in Alabama passes a junkyard.
"We get lots of complaints about that," he said.
Predictably, veterans have balked at the idea of putting a national cemetery on the sprawling prison grounds, saying it would sully their service to the nation, rather than honor it.
"I wouldn't want my fallen comrades to be associated with (state) prisoners," said Gus DiMino, chairman of the Central Montgomery County All-Veterans Council.
The congressmen conceded that the negative reaction to the Graterford site is a major drawback.
"I think it's an attractive piece of land," Specter said. "My concern is whether the veterans would be happy about it."
Specter is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Though the Republican senator authored earlier cemetery bills, in October congress passed legislation sponsored by Gerlach.
Veterans Affairs has determined that Philadelphia area veterans are inadequately served by current burial sites.
The closest gravesite for in-ground burial is Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, but being 80 miles from Philadelphia, it is considered too far to travel.
On Nov. 11, President Bush signed the law establishing six new national cemeteries for U.S. military veterans, including one in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Currently, Veterans Affairs is evaluating sites in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
Many area veterans prefer the site of the former Pennhurst State Hospital in Spring City, Chester County, as a future cemetery. Pennhurst was formerly a mental institution.
Though Pennhurst is a clear favorite, officials are keeping their options open. The environmental picture at the former state hospital has yet to be fully evaluated.
The buildings on the Pennhurst property contain asbestos, Gerlach said, and officials suspect underground pollutants are present.
Specter said the Graterford site would have to be purchased from the state, though he did not mention a dollar amount.
"This is something we're considering," he said. "Cost is a factor."
Veterans Affairs is expected to select a cemetery for southeastern Pennsylvania in the next seven months, Specter said.
"We're anxious to name a site," he said. "We've been working on it for some time."
About 1,800 World War II veterans die each day, Pemberton said, and according to the Associated Press, Veterans Affairs estimates the number will peak at 687,000 in 2006.