Veterans Cemetery Honors Those Who Served
By Army Sgt. Amy Wieser-Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
MANDAN, N.D., Nov. 10, 2008 "They are dead; but they live in each patriot's breast, and their names are engraven on honor's bright crest," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote.
Purple irises greet visitors at the entrance to the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the Veterans Cemetery here, 2,799 names are "engraven," remembered in their death for the life they lived and the war they fought. Nearly 1,000 more share the sacred space, honored for their service in the National Guard or reserves or as a veteran's family member.
Stoic white-granite stones pattern the lush green landscape, spreading out in four directions from a plaza where flags fly high and proud. This is where soldiers - and airmen and sailors and Marines - "fade away." They're certainly never forgotten, especially as Veterans Day nears.
Although the first burial at the cemetery took place just 16 years ago, on July 7, 1992, it’s the final resting place for veterans of eight wars. More than 130 veterans have been re-interred there.
John Murray, who served with the 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry in the Civil War, rests there, as do two men who served in the Spanish-American War and 12 who served in World War I. World War II veterans fill more than half of the graves. Every conflict that followed is represented there as well, a virtual history lesson of service in times of a nation's greatest need.
About 250 times a year, Phil Miller lowers the cemetery's flags to half-staff to honor another veteran. Miller serves as the cemetery's director and has been with the cemetery throughout its history, having been hired as the construction manager in 1990. He rose to the rank of master sergeant in the North Dakota Army National Guard, where he has served for 29 years. Miller works with four others, in addition to two seasonal workers, to care for the facility and grounds and to assist families and visitors.
"I find it an honor to provide a service to our fallen veterans,” he said. “It's the least we can do for them by providing a final resting place.”
Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota’s adjutant general, has oversight of the cemetery.
"We approach our commitment to honoring veterans in the same manner we approach all of our missions here and abroad - with dedication, compassion and attention to detail," Sprynczynatyk said. "Our military funeral honors teams across the state pay final respects at veterans' funerals, and the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery provides a solemn place for our veterans to rest in peace.
“It's important that we never forget the sacrifices of any veteran. We not only remember this on Veterans Day, but every day."
Guardsmen constructed the Veterans Cemetery while benefiting from the additional training on operating equipment and performing similar tasks. Three grants from the National Guard Bureau went toward the flag plaza area, an underground sprinkler system, sidewalks and the visitor center construction.
The cemetery gives visitors a peaceful view of the entire Missouri River Valley, from the state Capitol to the University of Mary, and it builds from the history of nearby Fort Lincoln, a historic military post.
In its first full year of operation, 113 were interred at the cemetery. Last year, that number rose to 333. Veteran service officers across the state assist veterans in registering, which saves confusion and mistakes after a veteran's death.
Families can't always locate their loved one's military discharge papers, Miller said. Because headstone information comes from those papers, anyone with multiple enlistments must provide the most recent documentation to ensure the highest rank earned - as well as significant decorations and all branches of service - are properly annotated, he said.
One soldier, Miller said, was buried as a private, the rank he held when he first left active duty. He returned to the service and rose to the rank of colonel, but the updated paperwork was never provided, and the mistake wasn't realized until later, he said.
More than 3,000 living veterans have registered with the cemetery, and there's space for more than 8,000 others. A calculation of averages by cemetery officials estimates that space will be available for more than 96 years.
On Veterans Day, the nation honors the courage, commitment and patriotism of veterans across the United States. Every day, the staff of North Dakota Veterans Cemetery and other burial grounds recognize those same traits by caring for veterans’ final resting places while keeping their memories alive.
(Army Sgt. Amy Wieser-Wilson serves in the North Dakota National Guard.)