Northern Utahns eager for creation of new veterans cemetery
OGDEN — Northern Utah veterans will soon have the option to have their final resting place closer to home. A state-run veterans cemetery is planned to start taking shape in the next two to three years, according to Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs Executive Director Gary Harter.
Former VMA Director Terry Schow, who has been trying to bring a veteran cemetery to the area for years, said it is long overdue.
“No one that I’m aware of wants to be buried down there,” Schow said of the Utah Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park in Bluffdale, currently the only resting place specifically for service members in the state.
With over 100 acres of land south of Ogden Regional Medical Center donated for the project, the state is working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build Northern Utah’s first veterans cemetery.
Gulf War veteran Steve Ross said fellow members of the Golden Veterans group in Ogden are excited about the cemetery, with some of them asking when they can start registering for a burial plot.
“I’m thinking about myself,” Ross said.
Ross was awarded a burial plot next to his parents at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona as a recipient of the Silver Star Medal for his valor in combat, but he said he believes the trip to Phoenix to visit his grave would be hard on his wife.
While veterans would be responsible for their own coffin, their burial would be at no charge to them. Spouses of veterans may be buried with their loved one in the cemetery for a fee.
“It will be a double-decker plot though, so they will have to fight over who is going to be on top,” Schow said.
Rides to visit loved ones buried at the Utah Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park are offered to members of the Golden Veterans group, but Ross said none of the group members have family buried there.
The group does, however, have veterans buried at private cemeteries in the area. A burial allowance can be obtained through the VA’s National Cemetery Administration for any veteran, with varying amounts and benefits depending on the veteran’s status.
Schow said private cemeteries lack a special feeling of camaraderie. “A veterans cemetery is hallowed ground,” he said.
First phases of development are projected to cost the state $15 million, in reimbursable up-front costs such as architecture design, cemetery layout and a National Environmental Policy Act process used to evaluate potential impacts on the environment.
Construction costs are to be covered by the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program, with ongoing cemetery operations being covered by federal funds.
The program has awarded more than $910 million in grants since 1978, when it was established to develop, expand, improve, operate and maintain 119 veterans cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam and Saipan.
NCA spokesperson James LaPaglia said he does not know if the proposed area for the Weber County cemetery meets the administration’s baseline requirement of a 25,000-plus veteran population within a 75-mile radius of the property. The NCA relies on information such as veteran population provided to them on the grant application, which LaPaglia said they have yet to receive from the state.
According to Schow, Harter will be waiting until next year’s funding cycle to submit the grant application.