- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Vietnam veteran John Brame plans to be buried in a veterans cemetery reminiscent of Arlington, yet situated in his hometown in western Kentucky.

“If you’re from here or retired here, more than likely your kids will be here, too, and they don’t want to see Daddy buried in Virginia,” said Mr. Brame, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Hopkinsville.

The graveyard, set to open Nov. 21 in Hopkinsville, is the result of a federal program that provides money to states so they can build military cemeteries closer to veterans’ homes. The program has taken on greater urgency in recent years, with the World War II generation dying off rapidly and the government running out of room at national cemeteries such as Arlington.

There are an estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, and about 1,500 die each day. The Veterans Affairs Department estimates the number of veterans dying is expected to peak at 687,000 in 2006.

Since the program started in 1978, the VA has spent $154 million assisting the expansion or creation of 54 state veterans cemeteries. They tend to open in less-populated areas than national cemeteries, such as Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and Fort Logan in Denver.

The goal of the program is to provide a veterans cemetery within 75 miles of every veteran.

“Military service has the most profound impact on a person. It’s a life-changing event,” said Tim Meives, director of the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West. “We need to have a place for them that they can be buried and memorialized. A veterans cemetery is that kind of place.”

The Hopkinsville cemetery is one of five under construction. The others are in Boise, Idaho; Suffolk, Va.; Wakeeney, Kan.; and Winchendon, Mass., the VA says.

Applications have been submitted for 20 other new cemeteries stretching from Redding, Calif., to Greenville, S.C. Others are near military installations such as Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Polk, La.

To participate in the grant program, states are required to provide the land.

Three to eight veterans are expected to be buried daily in the Hopkinsville cemetery, which is down the road from Fort Campbell, on the Tennessee line. Thousands of veterans already have submitted applications for burial. Other veterans are in temporary graves and will be moved once the cemetery opens.

The cemetery — planned eventually to have 27,600 burial sites — is under construction in the rolling hills. A 25-foot eagle and 65-foot flagpole will mark the entrance. At grave sites marked in most cases with white crosses, veterans of all wars and ranks will be buried side by side.

A computer terminal will help visitors find the graves or stored ashes of loved ones.

A covered area for large memorial services is planned because the cemetery also will serve active-duty soldiers from Fort Campbell, home to the storied 101st Airborne Division, which has had more than 30 soldiers killed in Iraq.

“It’s going to be beautiful. It’s going to be absolutely first-class. No corners have been cut,” Mr. Brame said.

Kenneth Sewell, a Vietnam veteran from Hopkinsville who served in the Air Force, said it is a relief to know that a cemetery is nearby.

“I’ve already made all my arrangements set up to go there,” said Mr. Sewell, 65. “I’m not ready, but it’s ready.”

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