Work begins on Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene
Site at Lake Fort Phantom Hill to become hallowed ground by 2009
AUSTIN - Hundreds of Texas veterans today witnessed the long-awaited groundbreaking of the Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
By early 2009, the ceremony site - currently a rolling field by Lake Fort Phantom Hill - will be transformed into a magnificent burial ground for modern-day Texas heroes.
"This will be a dignified place of rest for Texas veterans and their spouses," said Jerry Patterson, Chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board. "They have earned it through their service to our nation. They deserve nothing less."
Today's groundbreaking was a much-anticipated event for residents in and around Abilene, home to approximately 31,000 veterans.
The ceremony featured a number of dignitaries who've been actively involved in the cemetery project.
William W. McLemore, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental and International Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has been in the forefront of Texas veterans issues. He presented Patterson with an oversized check for $8.1 million from the VA. The VA will pay all construction, equipment and design costs for the project.
"Texans have never hesitated to step up and serve their nation, and Abilene has more than its fair share of heroes," Patterson said. "This cemetery is for them. It is our charge to preserve this hallowed ground."
Also present at the ceremony were many elected officials and dignitaries from the federal, state and local levels. They included the Honorable Susan King, State Representative, District 71; the Honorable George Newman, Taylor County Judge; the Honorable Dale Spurgin, Jones County Judge; the Honorable Norm Archibald, Mayor of Abilene; and Col. John “JC” Valle, 7th Operations Group Commander, Dyess Air Force Base.
Before the groundbreaking, Patterson quoted from a March 21, 1945 invocation by U.S. Navy Lt. Roland B. Gittelsohn, a rabbi, at the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery at Iwo Jima.
"Here lie officers and men, blacks and whites, rich men and poor - together," Patterson said. "Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews - together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy."
The Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene will be built four miles north of Interstate 20, just east of Farm-to-Market Road 600.
The 63-acre cemetery will be a magnificent facility with an ultimate capacity for up to 20,000 burials. Among the features: a covered, open-air structure for committal services; a visitors center; a computer system for locating specific graves or interments; an assembly area for special occasions, such as Memorial Day observances; an avenue of flags; and a memorial walkway for future monuments. Construction will be in two or more phases.
The first interments are expected to take place in spring 2009.
The new cemetery will join Texas State Veterans Cemeteries built in Killeen and Mission. The cemeteries complement the states' four national veterans cemeteries in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso.
A special Web page with information on the groundbreaking ceremony and future cemetery can be found at www.glo.state.tx.us/abilene. The Web page features architectural renderings of the future cemetery and its overall layout, as well as photos of the undeveloped site and a fact sheet.
For additional information on Texas State Veterans Cemeteries and other veterans programs offered by the Texas Veterans Land Board, call 1-800-252-VETS (1-800-252-8387), or visit the Veterans Land Board Web site at http://www.texasveterans.com/.