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Veterans turn out for groundbreaking ceremony

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013
Posted in All Features

An artist depiction of the future Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery to be opened in 2015.

On a gray, chilly, early November morning a couple hundred people including veterans from across the region, friends and family members, and government officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery.

The cemetery, which is expected to open in late winter or early spring of 2015, will be located on 169 acres donated by Fillmore County to the state of Minnesota. It will be located southeast of Preston off Highway 52.

The county provided vans to shuttle people up the steep incline to what will eventually be at the heart of the cemetery. This area where the committal service center will be located overlooks a valley and the Root River. Some majestic century old oaks and young white pines complete the hilly landscape blanketed with prairie grasses.

Stantec, which is the St. Paul engineering firm that developed the master plan including landscaping and engineering for the cemetery, provided artist depictions of the future layout of the cemetery, the administration building, a committal service center, and the entry gate.

The entrance road is already under construction; this work is being done by Griffin Construction. The first phase of construction will include the development of 28 acres and will include the entry gate, administration building, roads, committal service center, pre-placed crypts, cremation burial areas, columbarium, landscaping, and a memorial walk. Olympic Builders General Contractors, Inc. has been awarded the construction grant. Over $10 million of federal money has been budgeted for the development of the cemetery.

The first phase, out of nine phases planned, will provide burial space for a decade. During this first phase of development a total of nearly 4,000 interment sites will be constructed including gravesites for casket internments, columbarium niches and in-ground cremain burials. The cemetery is expected through the nine phase development process to provide space for interments for nearly a century.

The formalities began with the ceremonial raising of the American flag. All was quiet except for the rich notes of a lone bugler. “Taps” sounded over the hills and valleys as the American flag was raised. Then the Honor Guard posted colors followed by the Pledge of Alliance.

Little Falls Cemetery Director David Swantek acknowledged the generous donation of this raw piece of ground by Fillmore County. He called it one of most beautiful sites in the state. This will be the second state veterans cemetery in Minnesota, the first being the State Veterans Cemetery at Little Falls. Fort Snelling National Veterans Cemetery located near St. Paul is the only other veterans cemetery in Minnesota.

The state cemetery will be operated by the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs.

Swantek maintained that many veterans request in return for their service only a flag draped coffin and a marker on their grave. Burial is available to all veterans who have been discharged from active military service under conditions other than dishonorable. Spouses and minor children and some unmarried adult children under specific conditions are also eligible for burial.

Steve Muro, Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs for the National Cemetery Administration, stated we remember on headstones those who gave their tomorrows so we can have our todays. This cemetery is expected to provide for more than 35,000 veterans and their families.

The goal is to provide a veterans cemetery location within 75 miles of a veteran’s home for 90 percent of the country’s veterans. This cemetery should serve veterans in southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and southwest Wisconsin.

Congressman Tim Walz thanked the Fillmore County commissioners for their vision, calling it nothing short of spectacular. He acknowledged the partnership and cooperative effort of local veterans service organizations, communities, local officials, state legislators, and the federal government that together contributed to making the cemetery a reality.

In 2009, then Senator Sharon Erickson-Ropes, a Navy nurse, read a National Cemetery Administration study on the need for regional cemeteries. She recognized the need for a veterans cemetery in southeast Minnesota. Ropes soon had a conversation with Fillmore County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud, an Air Force veteran. Amunrud, remembering the conversation, said the idea from that conversation became a journey and we have been successful. Representative Greg Davids and Senator Jeremy Miller worked to craft legislation which served to move that idea forward.

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