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The Utah Veterans Cemetery in Bluffdale soon may look like a war zone. But when a planned renovation is complete, the site will be landscaped to reflect the respect due the men and women buried there.
Retired Army Col. Craig V. Morgan said the cemetery at 17111 S. Camp Williams Road, dedicated in 1990, is funded mainly by the state but operates under guidelines of the National Cemetery Administration, which runs national federal sites such as Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Morgan, cemetery projects coordinator for Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, said the work is being funded by a pair of grants totaling $4.45 million from the national organization.
"There is never enough money for our needs so the two grants will be used for appearance, beautification and expansion of the cemetery," said Morgan.
The first grant of $250,000 will cover replacement of the brown, weedy sod now covering the grounds and realignment of the rectangular, ground-level headstones on the 3,900 graves of veterans and some of their spouses.
The cemetery may look shabby during the replanting and realignment, but work should be completed by the end of September.
"[Work] will be done to create a more fitting veteran cemetery," said Morgan.
He wants to assure families that the GPS coordinates of all headstones will be plotted before they are removed so they can be replaced in the correct locations. He said the marker mixup discovered recently in Arlington Cemetery won't happen at the Bluffdale cemetery.
A second grant of $4.2 million will be used to expand the cemetery and build new maintenance facilities, a new entrance and a columbarium, a commemorative wall about 6 feet tall with niches for urns containing cremains. The niches will be identified with 12-by-12-inch plaques.
"We're getting more and more requests for cremation," said Morgan.
He said the cemetery is open at no charge to eligible veterans and their spouses and dependent children regardless of who dies first.
Morgan said every funeral is conducted with full military honors. In most cases, all a family member must do upon the death of a veteran is provide eligibility documentation to a funeral home that will make arrangements.
Arnold Warner, building and grounds supervisor since 1994, said the improvements have been a long time coming.
"I think it's a great idea," he said of the projects. "There's a whole lot of work to do. We have to kill all the grass, bring in dirt, get it leveled and replace the markers."
While not a veteran himself, Warner said he takes great pride working at the cemetery.
Dennis McFall, a retired Army sergeant and deputy director of the Utah Department of Veteran Affairs, applied for the grants several years ago and said it was just coincidence that both were awarded at the same time.
"We expected to wait longer for our turn to come up," he said.
Even though the federal money helps, it is up to the state to fund and maintain normal operations at the cemetery. McFall said that amounts to about $115,000 a year.
"The busier we get, the more we realize we need a better entryway, maintenance [facility], bigger equipment and columbarium for cremains. It will be nicer to walk up to the wall and know where a niche is. It will enhance services and respect and dignity for fellow veterans."
McFall said the number of services at the cemetery has risen this year from six to eight a week to as many a dozen. He agreed the work will result in "quite an improvement."
"Now it is looking ragged in places, so we'll be in a state of flux while the work is done," McFall said. "We want the public to know that it is only temporary and to have patience and that we're not just letting things go. Sometimes you have to tear down to build up."