On a day reserved for remembering fallen service members, hundreds of veterans and their family members, plus active service members and dignitaries, turned out to break ground Monday on land that will be a permanent place for remembrance.
“These grounds will be a tribute to veterans,” said John Lee, Washington state director of Veterans Affairs.
The Eastern Washington State Veterans Cemetery is a $9.5 million project on about 80 acres of land just north of West Medical Lake at Espanola and Ritchey Roads. When it opens on May 31, 2010, it will be the final resting place of veterans from a 75-mile radius around the cemetery.
It’s the first state veterans cemetery in Washington, although there is a national veterans cemetery in Kent.
An estimated 140,000 retired veterans in the region could find their final resting place here someday, said Duane Wolfe, a member of the new cemetery’s board.
“I think it’s a great honor bestowed on us,” said Roy Higgs of Coeur d’Alene.
Higgs, who served in the Marine Corps, and several other retired Marines made the drive from North Idaho — one of the areas considered for the project.
Any veteran will be eligible to be buried in the cemetery, and families won’t have to pay burial fees. The cemetery will provide a concrete liner for the casket, a committal shelter for the funeral service and a memorial stone.
The Patriot Guard Riders — volunteers from several motorcycle clubs in the area — came to the event to help direct traffic, pass out bottled water to veterans, and park cars for veterans unable to walk far.
“We’ve got to take care of our veterans,” said Larry “Commo” Griffith, the Northeast District Captain for the Washington state chapter of the riders. Griffith said he expected around 30 to 35 volunteers to come and help with the group’s duties, but 110 came.
Featured speakers included U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Col. Robert Thomas, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base, and Col Gregory Bulkley, commander of the 141st Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard stationed at Fairchild. They and others mentioned the gratitude they feel toward those who serve in the military, and the importance of remembering the fallen and their families.Rick Cesler, the director of the cemetery, called the members of the cemetery board over to a square of land to officially break ground.
“We’re going to get this project started today,” Cesler said.
Each took a shovelful of earth and held it up so everyone could snap pictures.
The cemetery will be funded in part through the sale of Armed Forces license plates. “For every veteran that purchases a license plate, $28 of that money goes into a stewardship fund that allows the cemetery to function,” Wolfe said.
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