Veterans get their cemetery
PRESTON — A parade of Fillmore County and state officials and politicians spoke Tuesday before the county transferred a deed for 169 acres to the state for a new veterans cemetery on the outskirts of Preston.
But it was the rows of veterans watching the transfer who were the most important people.
County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud said the cemetery "is for them, by them and about them."
Several years ago, when the idea of the county giving land worth more than $500,000 to the state was just beginning, veterans stepped up, said Amunrud, himself a veteran who will be buried there. The veterans put local officials in contact with state veterans groups whose backing was needed, he said. They spoke to their local officials so every town and township in the county signed on to the idea, he said.
"They provided guidance to the commissioners," he said.
One of the veterans in the audience was David Garrison, a member of the Legion and VFW in Spring Valley, who said it's hard for nonveterans to understand how strong the desire is to be buried with other veterans.
"As a veteran, especially one that has seen combat, there is a special bond between myself and other veterans," he said. If they are buried next to other veterans, "the comradeship continues," said Garrison who is deciding on whether he will be buried there.
He was proud to hear all the officials and politicians praise veterans. "It makes you feel appreciated for what you have done," he said.
Besides praising veterans, speakers also praised the cemetery, even though work hasn't even started, saying it's going to be the best in the nation. It has rolling terrain, the flowing Root River and bluffs on the other side. It will be along U.S. 52 on land the county once tried to sell but couldn't find a buyer.
Reggie Worlds, deputy director of the Department of Veterans Affairs who received the deed from Amunrud, was elated. "It has finally happened; it has finally happened," he said. "This is an incredible day, an incredible day."
He cited local and state officials but, like Amunrud, said it was the veterans who made it happen. They stepped up to help get it going, to lobby for another cemetery, he said.
The state has a cemetery in Little Falls but was looking for one in the northeast or southeast. When Fillmore County officials heard the state was looking for a place for a cemetery, they looked to the 169 acres the county owned, Amunrud said.
Though it will lose money from donating the land, it will get several full-time jobs at the cemetery as well as economic impact of people coming to the town for burials or to visit graves, he said.
The $10.2 million for building it will come from federal funds, but operation and maintenance will come from the state.
The groundbreaking is expected to be in early November, though work could begin before that. The cemetery is expected to open in early 2015 or into spring. It will have room for about a century of burials; the department expects up to 40,000 veterans and eligible family members will be buried there.