ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — Veterans Day is a day to honor those who have served in the military. For some, it's a day to remember those heroes that have passed on. For the sacred grounds at the Rock Island National Cemetery, an expansion is underway, making room for thousands more veterans and their final resting place.
Right now more than 26,000 headstones lay in uniform lines at Rock Island National Cemetery. They represent the more than 32,000 veterans and family members buried there, dating back as far as the Civil War. "We want to provide a lasting place for them to lay their loved ones to rest." said Matt Tomes, Director of Rock Island National Cemetery. Tomes says, they are running out of room to lay heroes to rest. Right now, the cemetery completes 15-20 burials a week.
"Generally, if you served on active duty, you are eligible to be buried here" said Tomes. The burial for veterans and their spouses, comes at no cost to the family due to a military benefit covering the cost. "Inside our gates there's no cost. The headstones are free, opening and closing the gravesite is free" said Tomes. That doesn't mean there is no cost for the funeral. Any services held outside of the the burial are separate.
"I hope veterans realize that we're here for them. We're here for the families. We want to provide a lasting place for them to lay their lived ones to rest" said Tomes.
The expansion will allow to an additional 5,836 gravesites on 9.12 acres. There will be 2,000 pre-placed crypts for casketed heroes, 2,245 in-ground cremation plots, 1,500 columbarium niches (above ground structure to hold multiple cremation urns in), and 91 memorial wall markers. "It should give us another 15-19 years of burial space." said Tomes.
The pre-placed crypts allow for increased efficiency in the cemetery. They allow for 4 people to be buried in each crypt. "They know by GPS or measurements exactly where each one of these are." said Todd Bextine, Project Superintendent overseeing the expansion.
Bextine says it's humbling to have the opportunity to work on this project. "The respect is out of these world...It's a cemetery, it's hallowed ground. You got to respect what you're doing." Bextine went on to say.
The expansion project is expected to be completed late 2022.