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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014

New cemetery serves as final resting place for U.S. soldiers

Sunday, May 25, 2003

(Photo)
Kerry Gelbau lays paving bricks for the commital shelter's plaza.
BLOOMFIELD - Area veterans who want to be buried in a veterans cemetery will soon have an option closer to home - the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield.

"It takes care of veterans that want to be buried in a veterans cemetery," said Ken Swearengin, cemetery director. "It gives you a local veterans cemetery to go to."

Right now, the nearest veterans cemetery for area veterans is the 360-acre Jefferson Barracks Cemetery in St. Louis, established in the early 1800s, according to Swearengin.

"We will move in sometime in July," said Swearengin of the new facility, "and we will begin burials sometime in August." A dedication ceremony is slated for sometime in September.

Two caskets presently in-ground at another cemetery are slated to be moved to the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield immediately upon its opening, according to Swearengin, along with another two caskets and 16 cremation urns being held for its opening.

Located adjacent to the Stars and Stripes Library/Museum, construction of the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield was funded by a $5 million federal grant through the Veterans Administration.

The cemetery will follow federal guidelines, "but we're operated by the state of Missouri," Swearengin explained. "All our employees at the cemetery are state employees; that's basically the difference."

The cemetery's first phase, started May 1, 2002, is developing 38.01 of the total 64.21 acres into 10,156 full casket in-ground plots; 791 in-ground cremation plots; and 800 Columbarium wall cremation niches for a total of 11,747 plots.

Predicting he will do between 300-400 burials per year, Swearengin said this first phase should provide space for at least 20 years.

Additional funding for a second phase will be applied for once a certain percentage of phase one's lots are filled.

The Missouri Veterans Commission has two veterans cemeteries built in November 1999 and already operational at Springfield and at Higginsville. Another veterans cemetery is also being built at Jacksonville.

"It's something that most states are doing now," said Swearengin, estimating about half of the states are running veterans cemeteries now. "There's an increasing need because of the World War II veterans and Korean War veterans who are getting to that age."

In addition to burial plots, the cemetery includes an administrative facility with offices for Swearengin, a secretary and the maintenance supervisor; a vehicle maintenance-wash bay; a vehicle storage building; a chime tower placed near a small pond and fountain; and a committal shelter.

Swearengin described the committal shelter as being similar to a chapel. "We don't hold graveside services," said Swearengin, explaining they are prohibited at all veteran graveyards except for the national cemetery in Arlington which is run by the U.S. Army.

Arrangements to be buried at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield can be made through area funeral homes. "Just have them contact us," said Swearengin. Approval for burial is based on a review of the veteran's discharge records.

If it is a veteran's spouse that is to be buried, a copy of the marriage license is required. Veteran's spouses are interred in the same burial plot with their spouse unless the spouse is also an eligible veteran.

In addition to spouses, the cemetery is authorized to accept the minor child of a veteran as well.

Swearengin said veterans who plan on being buried at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield can bring in copies of their discharge record in advance. "They can do that and we will file them," said Swearengin, "and already have them preapproved for burial." He said 700 veterans have filed their paperwork so far.

Graves are assigned as needed except in the case of two veterans married to each other, in which case a plot may be reserved.

There is no cost for burial services provided by a Missouri Veterans Cemetery. "Everything we do is free," said Swearengin. Grave space, opening and closing the grave, grave liner, an upright granite headstone and perpetual care are all provided at no cost.

The headstones provided by the cemetery, however, are the only ones allowed to maintain uniformity.