National Cemetery a comfort to veteran families

Published 11:37 am Monday, December 15, 2008

When Lt. Col. Norbert Linder passed away in August 2007, his son, Steve, wanted a proper military burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Steve’s mother, however, opposed Arlington because it was too far away to visit.

So the two agreed to a compromise.

The Linders are among 25 families interested in veteran burials at the Alabama National Cemetery now under construction in Montevallo.

Steve, who resides in Montgomery, learned of the cemetery at a meeting of the Military Officers Association of America earlier this year. Quincy Whitehead, the cemetery’s director, was guest speaker.

“I got all the details from Ms. Whitehead and later we went up to visit and decided (the cemetery) would be the perfect place,” said Steve, a retired Air Force Colonel.

In hindsight, Steve believes his mother’s opposition to Arlington was correct. Steve’s father-in-law was buried in Arlington in 1993, and one of his close friends, a two-star general, was buried there recently.

While Steve’s father-in-law was buried one week after his death, his friend was buried four months afterwards. Steve said the time discrepancies between the burials suggest a growing problem.

“The Greatest Generation is passing away in such numbers that it

seems the national cemetery system is getting overloaded,” he said.

Before discovering the Alabama National Cemetery, Steve put in calls to the Mobile National Cemetery and the Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla., only to learn both sites were full.

According the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 1,800 veterans die each day, and 10 percent of them are buried in the country’s 125 national cemeteries. By year’s end, the cemeteries are expected to set a record with 107,000 burials.

The Alabama National Cemetery is one of six new national cemeteries being built at present. Construction has begun on the first phase of the 479-acre site. Whitehead said the first phase includes space for 1,000 caskets and cremation sites as well as a temporary administrative building on 12 acres.

The first burials are scheduled for this spring. Whitehead said families interested in burials at any national cemetery should obtain a copy of the veteran’s honorable discharge. At the time of death, the family should notify their chosen funeral home and present the discharge and instructions. The funeral home will then contact the cemetery.

All in-ground burials at the Alabama National Cemetery will have upright marble markers. The columbariums, used to store cremated remains, will have marble niche covers.

Whitehead emphasizes cemetery plots can only be requested at the time of a veteran’s death.

Whitehead said several families want to move the deceased from their current resting place to the cemetery. Steve Linder plans to bury his father’s funerary urn there.

Steve said his father devoted more than 30 years of his life to military service.

Norbert Linder enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U.S. Army Air Force, and participated in D-Day and Operation Market Garden as a C-47 pilot in World War II.

Linder went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam Wars before retiring in 1976.

Steve said the Alabama National Cemetery serves as a needed reminder of America’s freedoms.

“Someone had to make a sacrifice for everything we have today,” he said. “It’s important to know what people did for us in the past.”