Tallahassee Celebrates Opening of National Cemetery
By LaDarius Calhoun
Just in time for Memorial Day, the Tallahassee community paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of the veterans it honors by celebrating the opening of the Tallahassee National Cemetery.
On May 22, more than 500 people sat underneath a large white canopy at the site of the New National Cemetery on Apalachee Parkway. Political figures delivered speeches in honor of the men and women who served their country.
Each speech included an honor and tribute to those many men and women who have bravely fought within the armed forces.
“Here we dedicate a new place in their honor, a place to reflect our love, our honor, our devotion for them doing their duty,” said Robert McDonald, the U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs. “We show our loyalty to the ideas and ideals they fought for.”
National cemeteries were created for the brave men and women who served in the nation’s military. They provide a peaceful and final resting place for the veterans.
The beginning of national cemeteries arose in 1862 during the Civil War as the nation was in need of burial sites for fallen soldiers. Today the Tallahassee National Cemetery makes the 132nd national cemetery in the United States.
The first national cemetery is the Alexandria National Cemetery, located in Alexandria, Va.
Veterans came to the ceremony dressed in formal attire, with barrettes and vests that were accessorized with their military pins, patches and ribbons. Veterans described the addition of the new national cemetery as a “testimony.”
“This is much needed for veterans to have a final resting place,” said Edwin Bethea, retired U.S. Army soldier and retired Leon County school principal. “Now you don’t have to travel such great distance to Jacksonville or Pensacola. This is a testimony to the care that is being provided for veterans and their families. It is really needed.”
The National Cemetery Administration is building the Tallahassee National Cemetery on 250 acres, to serve the burial needs of more than 100,000 future Veterans of the Florida and Georgia area.
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs purchased the land in Leon County in August 2012 for $6.8 million. The first phase of the development will provide for 6,000 gravesites and will accommodate both casket and cremated remains.
Raymond Miller, director of the Tallahassee National Cemetery and a retired member of the Marine Corps, began his speech with his journey to such a dedication of U.S. veterans.
“In 2012 it was just an idea,” Miller said. “Today we have gotten to the point where we are actually dedicating the ground.”
Miller has worked in various capacities at other National Cemeteries in previous years. The Tallahassee National Cemetery will be his fourth.
“June 1, 2015, we will began taking applications for burials,” Miller said. “The first burial will take place early fall/spring of this year.”
Burial is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who have served the minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
The opening of the Tallahassee cemetery was described as a significant honor.
“Anytime we have an opportunity as a community, as state or as a country to honor our veterans it is very significant,” said U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. “Having Tallahassee National Cemetery placed here gives us an opportunity to honor those that served.”