‘Sacred ground’ becomes the site of new State Veterans Cemetery

Groundbreaking ceremonies on this nearly 170-acre site just north of the Minn.-Iowa border take place Nov. 8 and then construction begins to transform the postcard-like setting on the rolling hills into a final resting place for more than 35,000 veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will reimburse the state VA $10 million to develop the cemetery, long advocated by local, state and federal officials.

Sturdy footwear is suggested for today’s groundbreaking for the state’s second Veterans Cemetery in southeastern Minnesota. The 169-acre site is still in its raw form, cradled in the rolling hills near Preston just north of the Iowa border.

Today, it will host military officials and veterans from the region as it starts to become the final resting place for more than 35,000 veterans. The facility is expected to serve the needs of veterans  for 100 years.

“It’s going to become sacred ground,” said Fillmore County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud who pushed for the county to donate the land to the state for the new cemetery. “It’s very exciting for veterans from all over northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and in central and southeast Minnesota.”

Amunrud, who lives in Spring Valley, Minn., has spent more than five years working on the idea. The Air Force veteran says after years making a 240-mile round trip to Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis to visit his father’s grave, he thought veterans should have an option closer to home.

“My wife and I — we plan on being interred here,” he said while on a recent visit to the site. “It’s not only a beautiful place and it’s in such a nice setting, but it’s a peaceful valley up there and to place a cemetery on that land is quite fitting. It’s a real honor.”

The acreage is on the edge of Preston, near the Root River and a popular state bike trail.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs recently received $10 million from the Federal Cemetery Administration for the new cemetery, which is expected to open in 2015.