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BY PENNY FLETCHER
SUN CITY CENTER- South County veterans and their families eligible to be buried in a National Cemetery only have to drive half as far as they used to thanks to the on-going construction of the Sarasota National Cemetery at 9810 State Road 72.
“Before this cemetery was built, eligible veterans and their spouses had to go to Bushnell,” said Cdr. “Bo” Heininger, U.S. Navy Ret., who is also commander of the local chapter of the Association of Naval Aviators.
|Penny Fletcher Photo
“Bo” Heininger, U.S. Navy Ret. and commander of the local branch of the Association of Naval Aviators, hosts Wesley Jones, director of the new Sarasota National Cemetery, and Glenn Herman, lead cemetery representative, at the ANA’s Feb. 2 luncheon held at the (Freedom) Plaza Club in Sun City Center.|
Heininger made the remarks as part of a presentation at the Feb. 2 luncheon of the ANA at the (Freedom) Plaza Club and then turned the floor over to his two guest speakers, Wesley Jones, director of the new cemetery and Glenn Herman, lead cemetery representative.
Although Bushnell has a beautiful national cemetery, it is 78 miles from Sun City Center, where Sarasota is only 38. This will save a lot of time when funeral planning as well as when the burial services are held.
“It pretty much takes a whole day now to go (to Bushnell) said Heininger as he introduced his guests.
Jones and Herman brought renderings of the completed project on two separate easels, showing how the 300-acre property will look when finished, and explained it in phases.
At this point, only 10 acres are completed, and a temporary administration building is on site, they said.
“There are already about 1,700 caskets and cremains buried there,” Herman said. “And we have present crypts buried in the first 10 acres, 7 and 5 feet deep. That way all we have to do is dig about 3 feet and open the lids and put the caskets in.”
“By presetting the crypts, about 1,800 (people) can be buried in an acre of ground, so if someone outlives two or three spouses, they can all be buried with them,” Jones added.
The second phase has gone out to bid and as soon as a contractor is chosen a target groundbreaking date for the permanent buildings, columbarium, memorial garden and scattering gardens will be set.
Both headstones and memorials will be available.
The pair explained that nothing happens in a national cemetery without being part of a plan. “You get the best of everything, a military honors funeral with or without religious services, whatever the family chooses, and the very best perpetual care. Every bench and tree is part of the long-term plan,” Herman said.
They explained they weren’t there to pull people away from Bushnell. But remains can be transferred.
“If it’s closer, family members may visit more often,” Herman said. “It’s not that we want to find veterans and tell them about it, we want people to spread the word. Everybody knows someone who knows a vet.”
Jones gave a PowerPoint presentation during which he showed the details of the 10,000-square-foot building, walkways, and location of plots.
Prior to taking this job, which Jones had only had for only one day when he spoke in Sun City Center, he had run other national cemeteries and wants to use the best ideas he has gained from his experience.
“You should see the one (National Cemetery) in Bakersfield, Calif., about 150 miles off the Coast, 90 miles from Edwards Air Force Base. It’s such a beautiful area. I watched how the field workers nearby shook the almonds off the trees, how the old snakes crossed the roads. Now that I’m older, I like to smell the roses more as I travel.”
He also described the Biloxi, Miss., National Cemetery with its 35,000 upright headstones. Every one I have visited is beautiful. We’re all part of one system, you know. Except Arlington, which is run by the Army.”
A brochure can be sent explaining what documents must be brought to establish eligibility; what to do at the time of need; how to make pre-arrangements (which were highly recommended); and how to locate gravesites and make tributes after the funeral.
Inquiries may be made by toll-free telephone at (877) 861-3457. Jones may also be E-mailed at email@example.com
Meanwhile, general facts and information about national cemeteries may be viewed online at www.cem.va.gov.
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