First burials conducted at Alabama National Cemetery

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, June 25, 2009

World War II veteran Samuel Patton buried his wife of 63 years Thursday at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.

Margaret H. Patton was one of three veterans’ spouses to be laid to rest during a 10 a.m. ceremony marking the first cemetery burials.

Six veterans were also interred.

Samuel, who was a single engine fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, traveled from Birmingham with daughter Martha Jane and her family to attend the ceremony.

“It means closure forever,” he said. “She was a dear wife to me for many years.”

“I think she would’ve liked being one of the first to be buried in this cemetery,” said Martha Jane.

“Yes, she would have,” Samuel responded. “This place … it’s got some life in it.”

Nine dignitaries simultaneously placed the cremated remains of Patton, Katy D. Moore, Jane H. Saylors, Joseph A. Hanks, William E. Hiller, Carrol F. Cato, William L. Barnes, Steven O. Gillespie and Edgbert Hicks Jr. in their respective vaults or graves. A command was given for the ceremonial firing of the weapons, Taps were played and military branches presented American flags to the deceased’s families.

Montevallo Mayor Ben McCrory served as a dignitary alongside State Sen. Hank Erwin (R-Montevallo) and representatives of the National Cemetery Administration and the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It was a beautiful service, and it’s a tribute to the spouses and loved ones who had family members buried here today,” McCrory said. “I think it’s an honor for the families to have their loved ones buried here at our ‘Little Arlington.’”

Cemetery Director Quincy Whitehead said the cemetery opening is a joyous occasion for veteran families as well as the community. Prior to the ceremony, a family member told Whitehead, ‘You made my wish come true.’

“I’m glad we’re finally open,” Whitehead said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Casket burials begin at the cemetery Friday. Six veterans will be interred during private ceremonies then.

Construction will resume at the cemetery this fall. This phase includes permanent administration and maintenance buildings, a columbarium, two committal shelters, public restrooms and an electronic gravesite locator on 41 acres, Whitehead said.

When finished, the 479-acre cemetery will serve approximately 200,000 veterans over the next 50 years.

For more information about cemetery eligibility, call 665-9039.