On the eve of President Reagan’s departure for Europe, the Legislature urged him Monday not to go to the military cemetery at Bitburg, West Germany, that contains graves of Nazi SS soldiers.
On a 58-0 vote, the Assembly approved a measure appealing to the President to change his plan to visit the cemetery. Twelve members of the GOP joined 46 Democrats in voting “aye,” and 21 Republicans abstained. Earlier, the Senate approved an identical measure, with most Republicans abstaining.
The appeal was carried in the Assembly by Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who cast the issue in moral terms not normally heard on the Assembly floor. Brown, his voice rising with emotion, drew the attention of his colleagues as he asserted that to remain silent on the cemetery visit would be a mistake.
“And where the question is good and evil, politics and diplomacy must go out the window. . . . This is simply to say that as Americans, we ought to come down on the side of good and not evil,” Brown said.
Reagan plans to begin a European trip today, partly to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II. Controversy has surrounded his planned stopover at the cemetery chiefly because it contains 49 graves of soldiers of the Nazi SS, which fielded some combat units and ran Hitler’s concentration camps.
For the President to visit the cemetery and lay a wreath “and in some manner even lend any credence to honor people who engaged in that kind of activity is literally a shame,” Brown asserted.
One of the Republicans who abstained, Assemblyman Frank Hill of Whittier, explained his position, saying, “I feel uncomfortable telling the President where he should go. . . . It’s up to him to decide.”