MARION, Ind. (WANE) – More than four million Americans are buried in the VA’s 155 National Cemeteries. They’re in 42 states and Indiana has three. The closest to Northeast Indiana is 40 minutes south of Fort Wayne in Marion.
“This is home for me. We consider it a national shrine. We are mainly veteran employees that work here and we take a lot of pride in what we do,” Dave Drake, the Marion National Cemetery’s assistant director, said.
A soldier’s home first opened on the property in 1890 to give Civil War veterans a place to go. The cemetery was then established next to it. Henry Smith, who was a private in the 20th Indiana Infantry, died in May 1890 and was the first interment.
Now Marion National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 14,000 people.
“One of our mindsets that we have is to never let the veteran die a second death. Always keep their memory in mind,” Drake said.
The cemetery is still active with more than 500 burials last year and an expansion is underway. There’s also a lot of history from old buildings with new uses to soldiers’ sacrifices more than a century ago.
“We have three Medal of Honor recipients. They are Civil War era. Medal of Honor is the highest award that you can receive,” Drake said.
For Drake, one grave, is special.
“My grandfather served in the Navy. He served in Korea. I’m very proud of that,” he said.
He also helped inspire a family of service. Drake was in the Army for 20 years.
“82nd airborne division. I really enjoyed it and my son is there now and two years into his enlistment,” Drake said.
While people are welcome to visit and pay their respects all year long, there is a special Memorial Day ceremony and every headstone gets a flag.
“That means a lot to be able to come here on Memorial Day specifically. At the end of the day, I always make it a point to go over and visit his grave site,” Drake said.
Servicemen and women who completed at least two years of active duty and were honorably discharged are likely eligible to be buried in a National Cemetery. There can be other circumstances that can qualify a veteran, or their spouse, as well.
The VA also has a Veterans Legacy Memorial where families can look up veterans buried in National Cemeteries and post pictures and tributes to that veteran’s page.
In the Marion National Cemetery, there are thousands of reminders that freedom isn’t free and it’s the nation’s duty to never forget.