The Cemetery Expansion Project Ribbon Cutting Ceremony marked the second event of the Memorial Day celebration at the Utah Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park.
Terry Schow, Utah Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director, and other veteran community leaders joined together for the cutting of the blue and white ribbon dedicating the investment of about $4.2 million toward cemetery improvements. The improvements were funded by The National Cemetery Administration’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program.
Renovations included the construction of nearly 3,000 grave sites, a new maintenance facility, turf renovation and headstone cleaning and realignment, said George Eisenbach, the Veterans Affairs Cemetery Grants Program Acting Director.
“Veteran cemeteries are playing an increasingly important role in the way we honor those that serve the nation, as well as those that made the ultimate sacrifice,” Eisenbach said.
Burials in Veteran Affairs funded cemeteries more than doubled between 2000 and 2012, he said, growing from 14,000 to about 31,000 per year.
“Many of those deserving veterans and family members would not have been served if (these) cemeteries didn’t exist,” Eisenbach said.
The renovations beautified the cemetery into a “world class facility” for the families of veterans to appreciate, Schol said.
“I’ve had a number of families come up to me and tell me how beautiful it looks,” Schow said. “At the end of the day, if we have pleased those families, then that’s what this is all about because this place contains their loved ones.”
Schow said families of veterans can save themselves thousands of dollars of burial costs at the newly renovated cemetery, as veterans can be buried free of charge.
Just prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony, Eisenbach addressed those gathered around to witness the dedication of the cemetery’s renovations.
“What I’ve seen here is amazing. The folks out here are enthusiastic and the grounds are beautiful—really, really beautiful. Nothing would have kept me from coming.”
Around noon, a monument was dedicated to the special forces.
Color guard set the American and Utah flags in posts next to the Green Beret flag. The crowd stood, some with hands over their hearts, during the pledge of allegiance, and as the National Anthem and Ballad of the Green Beret played. Five commemorative planes flew overhead.
Two-dozen Green Beret veterans stood by the sheathed monument. Six of them worked to unveil the monument, dedicated to the 70th chapter of the Green Beret.
Gordon L Ewell, who attended the day's events, was a a veteran of the Army National Guard. He served for 24 years, including a one-year tour of duty in Iraq, where he was injured in several explosions and retired from service.
With a glass eye, hearing aids and two canes — one with a leather fringe handle and dozens of pins attached and a second, white-tipped cane — were visible reminders of his sacrifices in the military.
As he waited for the Green Beret ceremony, he said he felt gratitude for those who "paid the ultimate price for my freedom."
"It's a debt of gratitude you can't pay back but you do your best to pay forward," he said.
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