National cemetery consecrated in Montevallo

Published 4:24 pm Thursday, April 9, 2009

Clergy of varying faiths performed consecration rites at the 479-acre Alabama National Cemetery Thursday morning.

U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, the ceremony’s distinguished guest, said the consecration comes at a fitting time.

“Last night the observance of Passover began. Tomorrow is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter. These observances share with this cemetery a common theme of sacrifice, faith and freedom. The sacrifice and suffering of Good Friday is followed by the victory of faith and hope over bondage and oppression on Easter,” he said.

“This cemetery will remind us that our hard-fought freedom is not without cost every time we look at the crosses and the stars or shields of David across these green fields.”

The University of Montevallo Chamber Singers performed the songs “Ave Maria” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as clergy blessed the grounds. Faiths represented included Buddhism, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish, Episcopal, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and Protestant.

The Alabama National Cemetery is the state’s third veteran’s cemetery, and will serve approximately 200,000 veterans over the next 50 years, said Retired Army Master Sergeant and former Shelby County Commissioner Earl Cunningham, who served as master of ceremonies. The first burials are expected in mid-May.

Bob Barefield, chairman of the cemetery’s support committee, said the construction means a great deal to veterans who live in central Alabama, explaining the Mobile National Cemetery is closed to new interments, and Fort Mitchell Cemetery in Seale is too far away for families to visit their loved one.

“This is a tribute to our veterans, a tribute to our community, and a tribute to the state of Alabama,” he said. “It’s the Arlington of the South.”

Quincy Whitehead, cemetery director, said the site is in its first phase of construction. The next phase is expected to begin this fall, and will include 7,395 casket sites, and 3,700 in-ground and above-ground cremation sites.

When finished, the cemetery will feature an administration and public information complex with an electronic gravesite locator and public restrooms, a memorial walkway and committal shelters for funeral services.

“Today this land will be transformed into a national shrine, befitting our heroes’ independence,” Whitehead said.

Montevallo Mayor Ben McCrory, who led guests in the pledge of allegiance, said he and the community are privileged to have the cemetery within the city’s limits.

“We feel honored that we were chosen for this great institution,” he said. “It’s going to be a gorgeous place.”

The Alabama National Cemetery is located off Highway 119 next to American Village.