Fillmore County donation helps make new vets cemetery likely.
Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Fillmore County, about 50,000 veterans living in southern Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin may soon have a closer-to-home option when it comes to choosing their final resting place.
Since 2007, Minnesota lawmakers and veterans officials have pushed to open several new state veterans cemeteries. Minnesota, unlike many other states, has just one state-run burial ground for vets. It's located in Little Falls. Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities offers a federally run alternative.
But many veterans forego the honor of a military cemetery burial to be closer to home, so that families can more easily pay their respects on Memorial Day and other meaningful occasions.
State officials have scouted locations in northeast and southern Minnesota to better serve veterans. Fillmore County, located in the scenic southeast, heeded the call. Its county board has authorized the donation of a 156-acre parcel of rolling grassland near Preston for a new state veterans cemetery. The county bought the land to build a transfer station when a landfill closed, but no longer needs the property for that.
Acquiring land is one of the toughest hurdles for new veterans cemeteries. Fillmore County's donation has vaulted the proposal to the forefront not only in the state but also at the federal level.
The project now ranks 11th on a federal priority list of 104 proposed cemeteries and cemetery improvements. That ranking helps ensure greater opportunity for construction funding. The federal government will likely cover design and construction costs -- estimated at $7.9 million -- though final approval has not yet been given. The state assumes operating costs.
State officials are hopeful that the new cemetery could open as soon as 2015. Already, area veterans are making plans to be laid to rest there (the cemetery is also open to veterans from other states). Stephen O'Connor of Spring Valley is a Vietnam veteran with lung cancer linked to Agent Orange. He is comforted knowing that his final resting place could be both close to home and "a place of perpetual honor.''
Veterans cemeteries are still needed in southwest Minnesota and in the state's northeast. Fillmore County's generosity should inspire others to come forward and make cemeteries in these regions a reality, too.
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