National Cemetery of the Alleghenies builds new plot
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township has been the final resting place for more than 7,500 veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their family members since it first opened in 2005.
“Any given day, we have up to 10 internments,” said director Ronald Hestdalen. “Most cemeteries do one to two a day, but we do several. We lay someone to rest every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. We have to do it that way.”
Hestdalen said the influx of veterans utilizing the cemetery has made it necessary to expand – the first expansion since the 91-acre cemetery was built.
Construction crews recently broke ground on a large vault beneath Section 10, a 1-acre expansion of the cemetery that would eventually entomb an additional 1,237 bodies. The new section would contain a large, flat, gravel-lined crypt underground that would contain hundreds of cement liners, each of which would hold two bodies separated by a metal divider.
“We intern all branches of service,” Hestdalen said. “As long as you served, you’re eligible for internment – regardless if it was peacetime or wartime.”
Spouses of service members and children up to a certain age are also entitled to a plot at a national cemetery.
Within the next few months, workers will cover the large, leveled hole with gravel and place the five-feet-deep vaults into position before capping them with 60-pound cement lids and covering them with an additional 22 inches of earth.
Walking through the perfectly aligned rows of all-marble tombstones, one gets the impression that each plot is perfectly uniform. But that could be an optical illusion, as Hestdalen said there are slight variations in the distances between stones from section to section.
There are three options for final resting place at the cemetery. Families can choose between vaults like the ones being installed in the new section, a more traditional plot for which families provide their own liner or a plot specially designed for the burial of cremated remains. Each section is organized by internment option and the size of plots change accordingly.
Vault spaces run 3-feet by 8-feet, while a traditional plot is 4-feet by 8-feet and spots for buried urns are 4-feet by 4-feet. There is also a marble and stone mausoleum for those who choose to have their ashes placed above ground.
Hestdalen, a veteran himself, said the options were part of an effort to give service members as much choice as possible.
Any veteran who had been honorably discharged is eligible for a burial at any national cemetery that has available plots. The cost of the burial is paid for by the Department of Defense, which also provides military honors and a burial flag to each family.
Hestdalen said he thought there might be veterans who may not know of their eligibility for internment. He directed those interested to the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies website at www.CEM.VA.gov.
“This is a benefit they’ve earned through their honorable and faithful service to our nation,” Hestdalen said.