Monday, May 20, 2013
Veterans Support Interior Alaska Cemetery
The land is on a west-facing slope with birch and spruce trees intermixed and a chance of permafrost ground.
FAIRBANKS — United States military veterans showed support for a proposed Interior Alaska veteran’s cemetery at a Thursday evening meeting.
At the Noel Wien Library, the state’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs presented a slideshow of a cemetery in construction at Fort Jackson in Missouri. Its 40 acres were groomed, and it contained administrative buildings, neatly lined markers and memorials.
The DMVA’s Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre said Fairbanks’ cemetery would look similar because each cemetery funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs must have the look and feel of Arlington Cemetery.
“It’s not going to be Missouri-centric,” he said. “It’s going to be Alaska-centric.”
The proposed location is just outside Fox on a 100-acre site on Goldmine Trail. The land is on a west-facing slope with birch and spruce trees intermixed and a chance of permafrost ground.
To deal with the permafrost and keep the signature Arlington-uniformed markers, planners are proposing a crypt-style of graveyard that would connect rows of graves that shift together rather than individually.
The crypts also would allow for winter burials, Pierce said.
The project is being funded with $6.5 million from the Department of Veteran Affairs and $1 million from the state legislature. Since the state’s DMVA has the land acquired, the Fairbanks cemetery is high on the list of military cemetery priorities.
Pierce said the DMVA wanted to make sure the cemetery was based in a central location accessible to people across the state. Military cemeteries of 40 acres typically last 100 years, and if the Fairbanks cemetery uses 80 acres of its 100-acre site, it could last much longer.
“There’s not going to be another one of these created in Alaska for a long time,” he said.
Benno Cleveland, president of the Alaska Native Veterans Association, stood up to shake hands with Pierce and voice his support for the project.
“People don’t really know how many veterans we have in the Interior,” Cleveland said after the meeting. “A lot of them are being buried all around the state.”
Cleveland said it’s a hardship for families to take their loved ones so far away and to travel to visit them. He said he’s been supportive of the cemetery in Fairbanks since the get-go.
Robert Boles, commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 2, agreed with Cleveland.
“It’s a just honoring to America’s vets,” he said. Normally, he and other veterans will get together and tell stories, and he said the cemetery will be “a place we can all come together and continue telling our stories.”
Sgt. James Blyler travels across Alaska for military funerals as part of the Alaska Army National Guard Honor Guard. He said he will be active at the cemetery performing honor guards for fallen veterans.
“It’s a long time coming for Fairbanks,” he said. “Fairbanks’ veteran population is very diverse and large ... and they’re not getting any younger.”
There are more community meetings planned for further discussion with the neighbors of the cemetery for their comments and ideas.