“It will be a source of pride for the Preston area,” states Robert Gross, Cemetery Administrator at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery location in Preston, Minn.
The staff at the veterans cemetery were contacted a few weeks ago that the Preston site had been one of only two veterans cemeteries chosen in the nation to be featured in a series of videos. The second location included in the videos is a tribal veterans cemetery in South Dakota.
The video production was contracted by the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) under the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They picked one that is a tribal veterans cemetery to represent tribal veterans cemeteries and they picked the Preston location to represent the state veterans cemeteries,” explains Gross. “They will be doing a series of videos on these two locations,” shared Gross.
A private film crew from New York, supported by additional crew members from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, arrived on Saturday, July 14, 2018, and spent about three hours doing location scouting on the grounds of the veterans cemetery.
On Monday, July 16, the production crew arrived to begin filming at approximately 8 a.m. and filmed until about 6 p.m. They returned on Tuesday morning and wrapped up their production at the cemetery grounds approximately 6 p.m., although they did spent time filming additional footage around Preston.
“It was a fairly large team that was here for the operation,” says Gross. “There were two individuals from National Cemeteries, six on the actual film crew and then an additional four crew members that came in from the St. Paul area that worked with them doing sound, etc.,” explains Gross.
As part of the production, the crew wanted to film a memorial service and out of respect it was decided that a simulated service would be performed instead of filming an actual service. Having a simulated service would also make it easier for the film crew to start and stop production to get the shots they wanted.
Gross reached out to the Preston/Harmony Memorial Rifle Squad and the Army Honors Team, who agreed to participate in the simulated service as well as Pastor Stuart Weist of the First Baptist Church in Preston.
A few people were invited to stand in as family members during the simulated ceremony including Kim Holty from rural Houston County, who has done some local community theatre, to fill the role of next of kin along with her two daughters.
“She’s one of those naturally empathetic people,” explains Gross, and she became quite emotional during the simulated service.
Along with the footage of the veterans cemetery the film crew also did several interview shoots at various areas on the grounds. David Swantek, Minnesota State Veterans Cemeteries Director, spoke in his interview about the process that led to the veterans cemetery being located in Preston.
Gross spoke about the importance of the veterans cemetery to families and several family members and a friend of a veteran were also interviewed. The family interviews included a husband who spoke about his wife, a child who talked about their parent, and a sibling who memorializes her sister that is buried at the veterans cemetery. A friend of someone who is laid to rest at the veterans cemetery, who may not have a family, shared their memories and their experience with the veterans cemetery.
The film crew also took some drone footage of the grounds to show a broad perspective of the grounds, filmed the operations team working in their traditional roles and spoke to several local residents about their thoughts on the veterans cemetery. When the crew returned from doing interviews with residents they commented to Gross how supportive the community is of the veterans cemetery.
Gross explains that these videos will be used in several ways, such as demonstrating the state veterans system and the tribal veterans cemeteries system. The videos are meant “to show the public what they consist of across the United States,” states Gross.
The series of videos will also provide valuable information in areas where they don’t have any veterans cemeteries and may be considering having one. Additionally, the videos will be utilized in the Fillmore County area and beyond to raise public awareness.
“As we understand, it will be something that will be put out across the entire nation,” notes Gross. “It will be shared with the commissioners from all states at their annual training and will probably be on the VA’s website and out on their social media,” he adds.
As filming was completed at the South Dakota location prior to the Preston location, the videos should be available soon. “As far as we know the videos should be done the end of August,” Gross comments.
“It will be something that will be readily available,” states Gross. The community of Preston and all of Fillmore County will anxiously await the release of this series of videos highlighting our local Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery which honors those who we will never forget.