‘This is history’: Augusta veterans join forces in last-ditch effort to fund veterans cemetery

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Between Fort Eisenhower, Charlie Norwood Medical Center, and all the other resources, Augusta is a very military-friendly city. But it’s missing one thing: a veterans cemetery.

About 40 veterans from the area this week jumped on a bus and headed to the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta in hopes of correcting that.

Burial in a veterans cemetery comes with a lot of benefits and a veteran can be buried in any veterans cemetery regardless of location. But currently, the closest locations to Augusta are in Milledgeville and Columbia, South Carolina, both more than 80 miles away.

Bringing this resource closer to military families in the Augusta area has been a long-time passion project for veterans Don Clark and Bob Young, former mayor of Augusta.

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More than 200 acres of property were purchased around East Central Regional Hospital’s Gracewood campus. Once this is completed, the Georgia Department of Veterans Affairs will be responsible for managing it.

The problem is financing the construction of the cemetery. The price is north of $10 million. The initial plan was to fund it with a federal cemetery grant, but that’s way off the grant’s priority list.

Their last hope is for the state to cover the cost, and there’s a window of opportunity between now and March when this year’s legislative session ends.

What happens if they miss this deadline?

“Don and I will probably fold up our tent and go home,” Young said. “The only option after going to the state legislature is: Hey city of Augusta, do you want to pay for a cemetery for the state of Georgia?” … I don’t think this is a question that the commission is looking to answer and I don’t think it’s an appropriate question.”

So veterans lobbied in Atlanta, and many lawmakers were supportive.

“We’re trying to find a way to honor our veterans by allowing them to be buried in their home community,” said State Sen. Max Burns.

FILE - Georgia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Mike Roby, staff, former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, Sen. Harold Jones and Commissioner Dennis Williams tour the proposed site of a new veterans cemetery on the Gracewood campus of East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta in 2020. Young was He was among 40 veterans who sought funding for the project at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Gloria Frazier expressed her support as a military spouse herself and as a state representative for more than 66,000 military families in the Augusta area.

“I realize how important it is to make sure our spouses and loved ones are buried close to us, so we can actually visit them.” “A lot of couples want to visit their loved ones a lot more,” Frazier said.

Clark said the trip went amazingly well and they are proud to have so many veterans coming together to fight for this cause.

“This is history,” he said. “Bob and I have been working on this process for four years and then five years…so, to be able to expose our veterans to the legislative process in motion and work, and for them to have recognition at the state Capitol level, (I’m) very, very proud.”

This article originally appeared on the Augusta Chronicle website: Augusta veterans at the Georgia State Capitol fighting for a new cemetery

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