Ground breaks on S.D. veterans cemetery

By: 
Jamie Hult, Staff writer
Gov. Kristi Noe and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden join state officials in turning the dirt at the state veterans cemetery Sept. 9. Jamie Hult/BV Journal

Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the veterans cemetery groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 9. 

Ground broke Monday morning on the state’s first veterans cemetery just east of Renner.
A crowd clutched umbrellas and braved the rain to gather at the site on 60 acres donated by the city of Sioux Falls. 
Aaron Pollard, deputy secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, emceed the event, which was attended by Sen. Mike Rounds, Gov. Kristi Noem and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, among other dignitaries.
“Today is a special day in our state’s history,” said South Dakota Veterans Council president Terry Paulsen. 
The vision to construct this state veterans’ cemetery started over 25 years ago. For more than 20 years, there was little support for the idea, he said, though it resurfaced every year.
That all changed four years ago, when the veterans council unanimously decided to concentrate on making a state cemetery a reality.
South Dakota is one of only five states that doesn’t have a state veterans cemetery, Paulsen noted.
“With over 72,000 veterans living in South Dakota, there was an obligation to ensure that veterans and their families should not have to drive hundreds of miles to pay their respects to their loved ones,” he said. “Thanks to this cemetery becoming a reality, they won’t have to anymore.”
Sen. Rounds serves on the Senate committee for Veterans’ affairs.
“The least that we can do is to allow them and their families the opportunity for a place close to home to rest,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Mayor Paul Tenhaken spoke about how Sioux Falls continually supports military-related endeavors and the “humbling opportunity” to speak to so many veterans in the groundbreaking crowd Sept. 9.  
Paulsen went on to talk about the diligence of those who helped make the veterans cemetery a reality and the passage of Senate Bill 91.
“In a short time, this tract of land will be transformed into a sacred resting place for those who have served to protect our freedom,” he said. 
Following the speeches, more than one dozen who had a hand in the project, picked up shovels and turned the first pieces of dirt.
Gary Whitlock is Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s a credit to never giving up. It’s a credit to having a vision that spans over 10 years and a testament to the sacrifice of the men and women who will lay here,” Whitlock said.
Construction is expected to start in October or November, Pollard said, and be completed in 12 to 18 months.

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