OGDEN — Prospects for a veterans cemetery in Northern Utah are getting more realistic by the day, says a longtime Ogden military advocate who’s leading the charge to build such a facility.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has tentatively approved a site for a federal veterans cemetery — an approximately 25-acre plot of land in an undisclosed area north of Interstate 84 in the southeast Ogden area.
Terry Schow, Vietnam veteran and former executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, said the landowner has expressed interest in donating the site, free of charge.
The VA’s National Cemetery Administration provides burial and memorial benefits for veterans and eligible family members and maintains and operates 136 cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico. The administration is also responsible for 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites. The Northern Utah site is being scouted by locals, but the VA must approve of and commit to the site.
According to its website, the VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program regularly doles out funds to establish, expand, improve, operate and maintain veterans cemeteries. According to the VA, more than $862 million has been awarded since the program’s inception in 1978. The cemeteries provided more than 39,000 burials in Fiscal Year 2019.
In an email to Utah VA Deputy Director Dennis McFall, Tom Paquelet, project manager and landscape architect for the VA’s Cemetery Grants Program, told the Utah coalition to move forward with acquiring the site.
“Please move forward with this opportunity,” Paquelet says in the email. “We can work with you to properly size the facility, but that is down the road. Please move forward. I don’t know the number of veterans that will be served, but Utah is a state with a growing (population) and we can make something work there.”
Schow said there’s no solidified contracts yet, from either the landowner or the VA, but after several years of work, the plan is closer to reality than it’s ever been.
“It’s not cast in stone yet,” Schow said. “But it looks really promising right now. Looking better every day.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 40,000 veterans living in the six northernmost counties in Utah. The bureau also says Utah veterans are significantly older than the general population, with two-thirds of them being at least 55 years old and 44% being at least 65 years old.
Despite Northern Utah’s healthy veteran population, the only veterans cemetery in the state is in Bluffdale.
“The existing veterans cemetery is right next to Camp Williams — almost in Utah County,” Schow said. “It’s highly unlikely people from the northernmost part of the state are going to want to be buried there.”
Schow said there are several reasons a veteran might want to be buried at a national veterans cemetery, but the fact that actual burials and headstones are paid for by the federal government is probably the biggest draw.
“That’s a huge reason we want to get a cemetery up here,” Schow said. “And the upkeep and maintenance of these VA cemeteries is really great. I don’t want to disparage private cemeteries, but the VA has a very high standard.”
Schow said negotiations with the landowner are ongoing and an announcement will be made following any transaction.