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Iowa veterans cemetery

December 23, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Approximately 10 miles west of Des Moines along and within full view of Interstate 80 in Dallas County, and near the town of Van Meter lies the Iowa veterans cemetery. It is the first federally funded construction of a state owned and operated veteran's cemetery in the state of Iowa. It serves the veteran population, not only throughout the state, but around the country, as there is no state residency requirement to be interred there. It will ultimately provide burial space for up to 80,000 burials.

Ground breaking was held on Veterans Day in 2006. Dedication occurred on July 3, 2008. At the time of the dedication, over 1,000 veterans and eligible dependents had been deemed eligible for burial there.

It is interesting to note that the Veterans Affairs national cemeteries had its roots in the Civil War. In the summer of 1862, a divided America was experiencing its second summer of a terrible war. On July 17 of that year, Congress enacted legislation that authorized President Abraham Lincoln to purchase cemetery grounds to be used as national cemeteries for those who shall have died in the service to their country. One of those was in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where 4,476 Union soldiers were laid to rest after one day of terrible slaughter known as the Battle of Antietam. By 1870, 300,000 Union dead were buried in 73 national cemeteries, most located in the southeast near the battlefields. After the war the countryside was scoured to locate the remains of soldiers that died, and those that were located were buried in national cemeteries.

In 1998 President Bill Clinton signed the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 changing the name of the national cemetery system to its current name the National Cemetery Administration, of which the Iowa veterans cemetery is part of.

The Iowa veterans cemetery was developed through a federal grant. The state has committed to maintaining and operating the cemetery to national standards. Unlike private cemeteries, graveside services are not provided for at state veteran cemeteries (or national cemeteries like Arlington). All funeral services are held prior to arriving at the cemetery. Only committal services, if elected by the family are held at the Committal Service Shelter, and this takes the place of the graveside service. After the committal service, the cemetery staff privately transports the casket (or cremated remains) to the designated interment site. The family may then visit the location after cemetery staff deems it safe.

Eligibility for burial here is the same as for burial at the national cemeteries. That means that any veteran separated from the service by anything other than a dishonorable discharge, the veterans, spouse, and eligible dependent children may all be interred there.

Military service requirements are: discharged from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable, or died while on active duty, or served at least 20 years in the National Guard or Reserves, or any reserve personnel if they served in a presidential call-up. There is no charge for burial of the eligible veteran.

On November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln offered his eulogy to the slain stating, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." To the contrary, the world noted at once, and Americans remembered, and still continue to honor his words.



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