PROFILE: Barefields head support of National Cemetery
By GRACE THORNTON / Special to the Reporter
Bob Barefield has set foot in a lot of places over his 30 years of active duty.
He can rattle off numbers of Ranger battalions and airborne units and list locations he’s served in from Panama to Cambodia.
But there’s another set of numbers, another strip of land that has the heart of Bob Barefield these days.
It’s the 479 quiet, grassy acres in Montevallo that are serving as the final resting place for thousands of veterans. Since the moment he set foot on it, he’s felt like it was hallowed ground.
In the sprawling Alabama National Cemetery, white headstones dot the green hills, and flags flap in the quiet breeze. The sound of taps drifts out over the grounds from the eight or nine internment services held there every day.
And from the moment a hearse enters the front gates of the cemetery, every cost is taken care of for veterans, their spouses and dependent children.
“There are so many veterans and families who don’t know that they can be buried in a national shrine like this for free,” Bob Barefield said of the grounds, which opened in 2009 and are being built out to hold a projected 200,000 burials.
It’s an option veterans need to know about, he said.
That’s why he and his wife, Nancy, spend many of their days on the road, educating people around the state about their “real heroes” and the place where they can be laid to rest.
And that’s why he’s in his ninth year of serving on a volunteer basis as chairman of the Support Committee for cemetery, an office he’s held since the committee was formed.
“It’s just a labor of love, that’s what it is,” Bob Barefield said.
A major development
The committee’s formation was quick on the heels of Montevallo being designated as the site for the new cemetery.
“There are only two other national cemeteries in Alabama,” he said. “There’s one in Mobile, but it’s full. And there’s one at Fort Mitchell over near Auburn that was built in the 1980s.”
The one in Montevallo was going to be the only one in central or north Alabama, and it was going to be big. And it was going to need support.
So the 150-member committee was formed with Bob Barefield at the helm, and they came alongside cemetery staff in what Quincy Whitehead, director of the Alabama National Cemetery, calls a “great partnership.”
“They’ve helped us get to know the people we need to know and the resources we need to have to keep the cemetery running,” she said. “It’s also been a great way to get veterans involved in the cemetery as well.”
In addition to educating the state about the benefits of the cemetery, the Barefields and the support committee invest in the cemetery in tangible ways all the way from purchasing flagpoles for the Avenue of Flags to providing chairs, ice and drinks at memorial services.
They also raise money for special causes like the Wreaths Across America program, which provides holiday wreaths for every veteran’s grave, whether buried in a national cemetery or not. They also make arrangements for Memorial Day flag ceremonies, from planning the service all the way to poking holes in the hard ground at each grave in preparation for the flags to be placed.
That may seem small, but it’s a huge comfort to people like Adrienne Bourland, whose son Ken is buried in the Alabama National Cemetery.
“Ken’s boys, Charley and Andrew, enjoy being able to go to the cemetery and put the flag on Ken’s grave at Memorial Day and the wreath in December for Wreaths Across America,” she said.
Ken Bourland was killed in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and was the first person killed in active duty to be buried there, she said. “The cemetery hadn’t been open for very long at that point.”
But she remembers a couple of years before when she and Ken stood on the hill at the American Village during the Fourth of July celebration and looked out over the land that had just been earmarked for the not-yet-built cemetery.
“We looked in that direction, and I remember him saying that it would be a good place to be buried,” Bourland said.
The will to help
It’s for people like Ken Bourland that the Barefields keep going. It’s for people like Mitchell Spears, a veteran and longtime member of the support committee, who joined Ken Bourland there Oct. 17 after passing away at home five days before.
“We will forever be grateful for Mitchell’s legal guidance and counsel for the support committee, and we will miss him,” Bob Barefield said.
But it’s for their families and the thousands like them that the Barefields and the rest of the support committee are raising funds to build the Shoal Creek Overlook, an outdoor sanctuary for the loved ones of veterans to reflect on the lives of the ones they lost, he said.
The overlook, which will sit 40 feet above a horseshoe bend in the creek, will be down a wheelchair-accessible path that starts behind the columbarium.
“The overlook will be a 28-foot diameter circle with a gold star in the middle,” said Nancy Barefield, who is serving as fundraising chairman for the project. “There will be ripples emanating from the star that will reflect that person’s impact on their family, friends, community and nation.”
And it will give visitors a private moment to reflect and commune with nature, she said.
“The cemetery is built for people to find solace,” Nancy Barefield said.
Adrienne Bourland agreed.
“We’ve had the opportunity to make new friends, some of which have stories similar to that of our family,” she said.
The Barefields say it’s for those moments, those people that they keep at their work day after day.
“The people we meet and the stories we hear — they cry, we cry. I’ll have tears running down my face, and so will Bob. Words can’t describe it,” Nancy Barefield said.
For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit Bluestarsalute.org/wreaths-across-america.html.
For more information about the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery or to find out how to get involved, visit Scalnc.org.