By Hannah Yang

The fourth state veterans cemetery in the state had its groundbreaking ceremony in southern Minnesota on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

Inclement weather didn’t stop state and local representatives, community residents and veterans from huddling underneath white tarp tents as the rain and wind blew across rural prairie land in Redwood Falls. Where the tents stood will eventually be home to an 81-acre resting place for military veterans.

The project was 12 years in the making for many families and veterans in southwest Minnesota, who would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to the closest cemeteries, at Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities or in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to pay their respects to loved ones.

Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke said that the state has interred 10,000 veterans at its state cemeteries so far.

“I believe that the cemetery will be important for this community,” Herke said. It’s [the] last stop for many of our veterans as they go through their life. And it’s important those honors are actually given to each one of our veterans as we walk forward.”

Gov. Tim Walz, a veteran of the Army National Guard, said that the bipartisan support to get the veterans cemetery funding, as well as community leaders and officials working together to obtain the property, were critical to the project’s success.

“Veterans stick up for one another, veterans stand side by side,” Walz said. “All the differences we see, especially when you enter this special place, all those differences are gone. We lie in that perfect democracy, where we’re sisters and brothers in service to this nation. This community accepted the responsibility, and I would make the case that there are a few communities more ready than this one to accept it.”

Funding for the cemetery was boosted by an $11.2 million grant from the National Cemetery Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and $4.5 million from this year’s Minnesota Legislature.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, community members acknowledged the importance of having a sacred space for service members to rest. Among them was Navy veteran Lydia Conito, a member of Lower Sioux Indian Community, who has a family history of serving in the military.

“I’m so happy, it feels like the circle is coming close to an end,” Conito said. “Now our veterans will have a safe place to be and when they meet their Creator, they will all be so healthful, happy and they will meet all their relatives right here on this land.”

There are 10 total planning phases, beginning with a development phase of 21.7 acres of land. It will feature burial sites for caskets, in-ground cremation, and above-ground columbarium cremation. The state also plans to hire seven employees to help maintain the cemetery grounds.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose father was a Korean War veteran, said that it was important to continue supporting veterans and military service personnel in life and for after.

“We show them when they come home, not with tomatoes like what happened after the Vietnam War,” Klobuchar said. “You can have disagreements with war, but you don’t take it out on the warriors. We owe it to them and their families by giving them a beautiful, dignified place to rest. That’s what this place is.”

A dedication ceremony for the Redwood Falls cemetery is anticipated in spring or early summer of 2023.