For many veterans, a military burial is the first and final thing they ask for in return for their service. The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Preston conducted its first services on Veterans Day 2015 on 169 acres of rolling hills in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. It’s the second veterans cemetery to operate in the state.
But Minnesota veterans officials like to emphasize that the Preston cemetery is more than a final resting place reserved for the state’s veterans and their eligible family members. It’s for veterans from neighboring states who may want to be buried close to their homes and loved ones.
Although state veterans cemeteries differ from VA national cemeteries, both work toward a shared goal of providing eligible veterans and spouses with military burial honors within 75 miles of their home, nationwide. It was one reason construction began at the Preston site in 2013.
When parts of northern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin are included, more than 39,000 veterans live within 75 miles of the cemetery.
The other state veterans cemetery is in the central Minnesota city of Little Falls, more than 200 miles — and nearly a four-hour drive — from Preston. The closest national cemetery is Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, approximately 120 miles away. The closest state cemetery in Wisconsin is in Spooner, more than 190 miles from Preston.
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs hosted an event at the Preston site to emphasize the multistate nature of the facility.
“Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices throughout history to establish and protect the freedoms we all enjoy. While the state and federal governments have a number of programs and services in place to assist and thank those who have served, burial is often the only benefit veterans claim,” said Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito.
The Preston cemetery can do seven committal services a day, Monday through Friday. The cemetery office can arrange military honors that include a rifle volley, taps, flag-folding and presentation.
Veterans pay nothing for their burial and services. Spouses and eligible dependents pay $745.
More than 200 burials have taken place at the cemetery since it opened with more than 700 veterans preregistered for burial and services. The facility will eventually have room for 35,000 grave sites. A first phase can accommodate 3,500.