Previously, Wyoming was part of a handful of states that lacked a national cemetery – a place where veterans and their families can be honored for their sacrifices and laid to rest alongside fellow service members.
For veterans in Cheyenne, the closest place to receive a Veterans Affairs burial was in the Fort Logan National Cemetery, 114 miles away in Colorado. But that changed Thursday afternoon.
Under a bright blue Wyoming sky, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, joined by U.S. Rep, Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Gov. Mark Gordon, held a dedication ceremony for the new Cheyenne National Cemetery at 8611 Hildreth Road, which will become home to the gravesites of thousands of Wyoming veterans and their families.
“Here, we will never forget the sacrifices they made for us,” Wilkie said. “Here, generations of this state will come visit and remember their loved ones. Here, a dedicated place reflects our gratitude, love, our devotion to those who did their duty – a place where successive generations of veterans, separated by time, will be united forever.”
The cemetery came to fruition as part of the VA National Cemetery Administration’s Rural Initiative, which aims to provide VA burial benefits to those living in underserved areas. Including the location in Cheyenne, the country has 151 national cemeteries in 44 states, where the VA covers the costs for the gravesite, grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, government headstone or marker, U.S. burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate and perpetual care of the gravesite.
The Cheyenne National Cemetery will serve more than 55,000 veterans, their spouses and eligible children who live within a 75-mile radius of Cheyenne, and according to Wyoming Veterans Commission Chairman Travis Deti, it will mean a lot to the veterans of the Cowboy State.
“This is a really big deal, and it’s very special,” Deti said. “In the United States, we honor our veterans, we honor our servicemen, and we keep their memories alive, and this is the place where we’re going to do it here in Wyoming.”
As a testament to the sanctity of national cemeteries, Gordon shared the story of United States Marine Corps Brigadier General Donald M. “Buck” Schmuck, who was one of Gordon’s mentors before he passed in 2004.
Having earned the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars for his heroic actions during World War II and the Korean War, Schmuck now rests in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
“Last time I was there in Washington, we went and looked for his grave. I have to say, the emotion that I felt on that hallowed ground is exceptional. What we owe to those men and women who protected the values for this country is beyond belief,” Gordon said to a number of local veterans in the crowd.
A rifle salute and the playing of Taps closed out the ceremony, similar to what will happen during burial services at the national cemetery.
Veterans who are buried at the Cheyenne National Cemetery will be sent off with a playing of Taps, a rifle detail, a color guard and uniformed service members who present the burial flag to fully honor their sacrifices.
In the Antietam National Cemetery, a statue of a union soldier looks out upon his fallen peers and reads “Not for themselves, but for their country.” Cheney spoke of the statue and the value of the quote inscribed on it.
“I think that is something that we all need to pause every day – particularly on a day like today, when we’re here to commemorate, to dedicate the cemetery – that it is because of the selfless service of all of you that we live in freedom,” Cheney said.
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