National veterans cemetery under consideration
Federal Veteran Affairs (VA) personnel were in the Rhinelander area last Thursday morning to evaluate the possibility of establishing a national veterans cemetery near the Union Grove Cemetery in Cassian.
Last year, the VA put out word they were looking for land to purchase to create national cemeteries in eight regions of the United States.
“The VA is committed to improving service to veterans in rural areas,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. “Through an innovative partnership with existing cemeteries, we will be able to ensure burial for veterans in more locations that meet the high standards of national shrines.”
Under this rural initiative plan, the VA wants to build small national veteran burial grounds within existing public or private cemeteries in rural areas where unserved veteran populations are 25,000 or less within a 75-mile radius.
“We thought the Union Grove Cemetery would be a good match for this program,” said Denny Thompson, Cassian’s town treasurer. “Union Grove is a well known cemetery within the community and we have land available that qualifies for what the VA is looking for.”
The eight regions the VA is looking to establish these rural national cemeteries include not only Rhinelander but also Cheyenne, Wyo.; Laurel, Mont.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Cedar City, Utah; Calais, Maine; and Elko, Nev.
The plan is to purchase from towns and cities parcels that range from three to six acres to establish these burial grounds. The Town of Cassian owns about 40 acres of land that encompasses the six-acre Union Grove Cemetery which was established in 1924. There are between 400 to 500 souls buried there now, including 90 veterans from numerous wars. Land has been designated for about 500 more plots. A special meeting would have to take place for electors to decide if they were willing to have the town sell the property for the national cemetery.
Another plus to this site is an impressive memorial that was built in 2001. It includes lights, memorial stones, granite markers and several flags flying at all times. This is the site where a huge memorial service is held every spring that draws between 300 and 500 people, including veterans of numerous wars and their descendants.
On Thursday morning, Thompson, along with Gail Winnie and Gene Rio, both Town of Cassian supervisors, Tammy Walters, Oneida County’s veteran affairs officer, and Rick Smith, organizer of the annual veterans ceremony at Union Grove, met with six federal VA representatives at the cemetery to answer questions and show the representatives maps and land features of the 40 acres under consideration. They explained that establishing a national cemetery there would serve veterans and their families from areas like Tomahawk, Minocqua and Rhinelander. “It is centrally located to all these communities,” explained Winnie.
“In a 16-mile radius, you can travel to any of these towns.”
The board members took the VA reps on a tour of the land. They asked questions pertaining to soil consistency, endangered species in the area and whether any future development was being considered for the proposed sites.
The representatives were unsure when the final decision would be made regarding where to establish the national cemetery, as they were looking at other sites in the area as well.