Area veterans cemetery to be reality

Published 5:16 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

Families of veterans in South Alabama will soon have an opportunity to bury their loved ones in a it’s first State Veterans Cemetery.

The announcement of a $7 million grant to be used for the construction of the 103-acre facility was made this week by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

Clyde Marsh, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs said the grant award is an honor to Alabama’s veterans and their families.

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“Today our nation has honored our state veterans with the award of this grant,” Marsh said.  “Alabama can now build its first State Veterans Cemetery that will be a shrine and fitting resting place for our veterans in southwest Alabama.”

Escambia County Veterans Affairs Service Representative Mike Hanks said the planned cemetery is a blessing for families with deceased veterans who have a desire to be buried in a military-related cemetery.

“We are thrilled to hear about this new cemetery and that it will move forward,” Hanks said. “There are only two cemeteries for veterans in this area. One is in Pensacola, Fla., at the Naval Air Station and the other is in Biloxi, Miss. This cemetery will be a great opportunity for families of veterans in this are to have a local cemetery for the burial of their loves ones and have it accessible without a long drive.”

Hanks said a similar cemetery is located in Mobile, but burial there isn’t possible.

“The Mobile cemetery is full already,” Hanks said. “The other two in this area are filling quickly. This new cemetery is a great thing for our area.”

The cemetery will be built on a site near Spanish Fort on Ala. 225 across from Fort Blakeley State Park.  The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs acquired ownership of the property from the Baldwin County Commission in May.

“We owe our gratitude to our veterans for their service and sacrifice for our country,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “This project affords our veterans the dignity and respect they deserve in recognition of their service to this state and nation.”

Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects of Fairhope completed the cemetery’s design in June.  Marsh said the state VA will immediately move forward with the bidding process for the cemetery’s construction.

The grant will fund 100 percent of the design, construction and equipment costs associated with developing the cemetery.  The project includes the development of the property to include traditional in-ground burial sites, in-ground cremation sites, columbarium niches, combined administration and maintenance building, and a committal service shelter.

The Veterans Cemetery Grants Program is designed to complement VA’s 131 national cemeteries across the country.  Since 1980, the program has awarded grants totaling more than $438 million to establish, expand or improve 80 state veterans cemeteries in 41 states or territories.

Marsh said the cemetery will serve some 71,000 veterans and family members who live in the region over the next 100 years.  Construction is expected to begin in the fall.