Process for veterans cemetery
shows way government should work
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 9:03 AM
It's not often that two congressmen and several federal officials will travel from Washington, D.C., for a hearing in a rural Minnesota town of less than 2,000 people. That's what happened earlier this month when Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) headed a field hearing of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee in the Fillmore County courthouse in Preston.
The hearing, and all that led up to the designation of a veterans cemetery in Preston to serve southeastern Minnesota and the surrounding area, is a great example of government that works. We often hear about the partisan bickering, but this is an example where hard work, consensus and cooperation led to something substantial.
Fillmore County commissioners got the ball rolling by donating land for the cemetery and lining up local support among veterans, units of governments and residents. One federal official called Fillmore County a "motivated local partner," and that motivation, no doubt, is what originally made the Preston site stand above others that could have been considered, Rochester, for example, due to a larger population base, and later propelled it through the state Legislature and eventually put it on top of the list of proposed sites on a national list.
Local legislators were also partners in the process. Former DFL state senator Sharon Erickson Ropes, a veteran herself, and current Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) authored and supported legislation to fund the initial costs for assessment and evaluation of the site. Minnesota has just one state veterans cemetery in Little Falls, nearly 250 miles away. Other areas sought a second state cemetery, but Fillmore County was the one that got state funding to move the site forward.
Federal officials also seemed on board during the hearing in Preston, noting that the steps that were implemented could serve as a model for other communities seeking a state veterans cemetery. The local site is now a national priority with one federal official predicting they would soon gather again to dedicate a new state veterans cemetery. The application will likely be approved in 2013 after a couple of minor issues are cleared up.
The cemetery is important to our area because it will provide jobs, including for construction in building the cemetery and for maintenance when the project is complete, and also draw visitors to our area.
More importantly, though, it has the potential to serve as a resting place for more than 40,000 veterans in the area.
Nathan Pike of Spring Valley, veterans service officer formerly for Fillmore County and now for Olmsted County, said he knows of three families that are patiently waiting for the creation of the site so they can bury the cremated remains of their veteran loved ones and he is even planning on using the cemetery as his own final resting place.
Lucinda Barth of Preston, a sergeant in the Minnesota Army National Guard, testified at the hearing that every time she comes home from Iraq or Afghanistan she is "in awe of the beauty. It's a peaceful place. Loved ones will know theirs are at peace."
And Steve O'Connor of Spring Valley, a past commander of Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars, noted that "as a veteran, I am extremely pleased there will be a cemetery where I can be interred with my comrades. Although there will be comrades from many different wars, from many different eras, we all share an experience that can never be explained to the protected and doesn't need to be explained to the warrior. It is fitting that there should be a hallowed place designated for our eternal rest."
Although many of us paid our respect to veterans during the recent Memorial Day holiday, this cemetery is a lasting tribute that has unmeasurable value to those who have made sacrifices to protect us. All those involved in this grass roots project deserve heart-felt thanks, not only from veterans, but from all of us that are proud to live in a country where so many choose to defend our freedoms.