National Cemetery At Cassian Nears Completion
CASSIAN -- Burial of a U.S. veteran in a national cemetery is a time-honored tradition. But for some surviving families, long trips to visit the grave or internment site can be a daunting trip, especially for an aging spouse living in rural areas. But now there’s a national cemetery closer to home for many in the Northwoods. The yet-to-be named cemetery in the town of Cassian is nearing completion and will begin accepting burial requests in late spring or summer of this year.
In October 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs officially established the “National Veterans Burial Ground” in Cassian, (Harshaw) across the road from the Veterans Memorial in Union Grove Cemetery. Until the Cassian site is officially opened, the closest open national cemetery is Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, about 220 miles from Rhinelander or Eagle River.
Wisconsin’s only national cemetery, Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee, is closed to first interment casketed and cremation burials. The three open VA-funded state veterans cemeteries in Wisconsin are located in Union Grove, King and Spooner, the latter about 145 miles from Rhinelander or Eagle River.
Before the Cassian national cemetery became a reality, there was another turning point in honoring the veterans buried at Union Grove Cemetery, Harshaw. Rick Smith of Harshaw saw to it that they were not forgotten. The son of a highly decorated Army soldier, he played a large role in starting the Veterans Ceremony -- Union Grove Cemetery, Inc., a non-profit group that each year organizes a fitting Memorial Day ceremony that goes beyond a few speeches.
It all started on Memorial Day 1998 after his father – Master Sergeant (retired) Dewey E. Smith, a veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict – was buried at Union Grove Cemetery. “From sunup to sundown, no one else came,” said Smith, to honor the 44 veterans buried there. His father served 23 years in the Army, seeing action in World War II under Gen. Patton and then in the Korean Conflict. He was awarded a Silver Star for his heroics at Inchon, Korea. The citations reads in part: “Heedless of the intense hostile fire sweeping the area, Sergeant Smith fearlessly exposed himself as he manned the tank’s deck machine gun, utilizing it with great effectiveness and materially contributing to repulsing the foe’s initial assaults.”
Spurred on by his lifelong exposure to military life (“I was an Army brat,” the son says, “but didn’t serve in the military.”), Smith launched an effort to build a veterans memorial to honor all veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces. It was dedicated in 2001. More than 100 veterans are now buried at Union Grove. He also galvanized support for the Memorial Day services. “The first year, there were six (visitors); the next thirty,” he said. From there it has grown to include a motorcycle honor procession and flyovers.
In August of 2012, he saw a notice in a local paper announcing the VA’s desire to build additional burial options in rural areas across the U.S., specifically “where the unserved Veteran population is 25,000 or less within a 75-mile radius.” Smith contacted Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos as well as town officials to see if there was interest in Cassian becoming a candidate for the VA’s new initiative, “VA Expanding Burial Options in Rural Areas.” “I was in contact the whole time from the start,” said Smith. “I just kept beating on the door and they started giving me information.”
The result was a visit by VA representatives in September 2013 to view the Cassian site. The Union Grove Cemetery’s veterans monument was an inspiration. “How could you not pick this site,” said Smith. Federal officials agreed and announced its selection. “This National Veterans Burial Ground will help us reach veterans in rural parts of Wisconsin who have not previously had reasonable access to a national or state veterans cemetery,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald at the time. The VA purchased six acres for the cemetery from the town of Cassian for $24,000. It’s designed to accommodate 24,300 in-ground casket burial sites, in-ground cremation burial sites, above-ground columbarium niches, a memorial wall for those whose ashes were spread elsewhere, flagpoles, a memorial walkway, roads and other infrastructure.
Once done, the project at 4520 Lakewood Road, Harshaw, will cost $3.4 million. Its planners believe it will take at least 10 years to fill.
Burial in a national cemetery includes the opening and closing of the grave, a grave liner, perpetual care of the grave site, a grave headstone or marker, a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, all at no cost to the family. The grave markers will all be upright markers either made of white marble or gray granite. Some veterans may also be eligible for burial allowances. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.
Eligibility for burial in a Veterans Administration national cemetery includes:
• All members of the Armed Forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
• A veteran’s spouse, widow/widower, minor dependent children and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities.
• Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the veteran.
• Members of the National Guard or Reserves who die while on active duty or active duty for training or who were eligible for retired pay may also be eligible for burial.
Members of the National Guard or Reserves who only have active duty for training and were never federally activated, are not eligible. Unlike a state veterans cemetery, you cannot pre-register and reserve a burial plot.
You can file for pre-need determination, which tells you whether or not you, your spouse and your dependent child or children are eligible to be buried in a national cemetery. The VA determines eligibility determination for burial in a VA national cemetery in advance of need. VA form 40-10007 for pre-need is available at county veterans service offices. They can be faxed, but it’s recommended they be mailed. Supporting documentation such as discharge papers and a marriage and/or birth certificate are required. At the time of need your family would contact a funeral home, which will assist with making burial arrangements at the national cemetery. You may wish to make pre-need arrangements with a funeral home.
To schedule a burial: Fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow-up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117. For information about this and all national cemeteries, including the pre-determination form, go to the National Cemetery Administration’s website: www.cem.va.gov.
For local assistance, contact your county veteran service officer.