Friday, June 10, 2011

Iowa Veterans Cemetery

I did something on my way to West Des Moines yesterday that I've been wanting to do for some time - I drove through the new Iowa Veterans Cemetery north of Van Meter. (I-80, Exit 113)
All honorably discharged veterans became eligible for burial in national cemeteries in 1873; previously the criteria for admission centered on the soldier being a battlefield casualty.
The State Cemeteries Grant Program was established in 1978 to assist states in establishing cemeteries and providing grave sites for veterans. It was under this program that the Iowa Veterans Cemetery was established.

Before this, the only National Cemetery in Iowa was located in Keokuk. Keokuk's location at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers made it an ideal location for the establishment of five army hospitals. (The College of Physicians and Surgeons was located there.) Thousands of sick and wounded soldiers were transported up the Mississippi River from the Southern battlefields. Most of the initial interments came from these hospitals. Just after the Civil War there were 627 interments - 600 known Union soldiers and 27 unknown. Eight Confederate soldiers who died as prisoners of war in Keokuk were also buried at Keokuk National Cemetery. (Keokuk hosts an annual Civil War reenactment each April.)

The establishment of National Cemeteries was a direct result of the Civil War. Bud and I visited some of those Civil War Battlefields and Cemeteries during our trip back east in 2008. They were Shiloh National Military Park along the Tennessee River, The Lookout Mountain Battlefield (but not the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park) on the Tennessee-Georgia border and Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.

There is something striking about these orderly, identical grave markers. Thoughts here are much different than those when visiting cemeteries with their diverse memorial stones or the cemeteries where all the markers are ground level.

The Iowa Veterans Cemetery already has several sections with these rows. Is each section for a different war era? Someday I will go back and spend more time.

Bud (nor, I) does not plan to be interred. But if he ever changed his mind, I think I would try to influence him toward this Veterans Cemetery overlooking the Raccoon River Valley. There is peace here. And honor.

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