Feds help states build veterans cemeteries

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Vietnam veteran John Brame plans to be buried in a veterans cemetery reminiscent of Arlington, yet situated in his hometown in western Kentucky.

"If you're from here or retired here, more than likely your kids will be here, too, and they don't want to see Daddy buried in Virginia," said Brame, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Hopkinsville.

The new graveyard, set to open Nov. 21 in Hopkinsville, is the result of a federal program that provides money to states so they can build military cemeteries closer to veterans' homes. There are an estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, and about 1,500 die each day.

Since the program started in 1978, the Department of Veterans Affairs has spent $154 million assisting the expansion or creation of 54 state veterans cemeteries. The goal of the program is to provide a veterans cemetery within 75 miles of every veteran.

Missouri has opened three such cemeteries in the past decade, including one last month at Bloomfield. The Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, a 67-acre tract of land south of Bloomfield on Highway 25, was dedicated in October. More than 900 area veterans have already applied to be buried there.

"Military service has the most profound impact on a person. It's a life-changing event," said Tim Meives, director of the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West. "We need to have a place for them that they can be buried and memorialized. A veterans cemetery is that kind of place."

The Hopkinsville cemetery is one of five now under construction as part of the program. The others are in Boise, Idaho; Suffolk, Va.; Wakeeney, Kan.; and Winchendon, Mass., according to the VA.

Applications have been submitted for 20 other new cemeteries.

To participate in the grant program, states are required to provide the land.

Three to eight veterans are expected to be buried daily in the Hopkinsville cemetery, which is down the road from Fort Campbell, on the Tennessee line. Already, thousands of veterans have submitted applications for burial. Other veterans are in temporary graves and will be moved once the new cemetery opens.

The cemetery -- planned eventually to have 27,600 burial sites -- is under construction in the rolling hills. A 25-foot eagle and 65-foot flagpole will mark the entrance. On gravesites marked with in most cases with white crosses, veterans of all wars and ranks will be buried side by side.

A computer terminal will help visitors find the graves or stored ashes of loved ones.

Kenneth Sewell, a Vietnam veteran from Hopkinsville who served in the Air Force, said it is a relief to know there is a cemetery nearby.

"I've already made all my arrangements set up to go there," said Sewell, 65. "I'm not ready, but it's ready."

Staff writer Callie Clark contributed to this report.

mpowers@semissourian.com

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