HARWOOD, ND – The Fargo Memorial Honor Guard received a commitment from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that they would have access to approximately 2-3 acres for muster space at Fargo National Cemetery.
The non-profit veterans group has been working for months on fundraising and planning for a possible structure at the site which currently has no facilities. The cemetery is located northwest of Fargo near the town of Harwood.
“I’m very happy that we’re able to purchase the land and they’re not interfering with the purchase,” Honor Guard Commander Jason Hicks said. “It’s just awesome.”
The issue arose when Sen. John Hoeven, RN.D., announced in a Memorial Day speech at the cemetery that the National Cemetery Administration, a branch of the VA, had agreed to purchase up to 30 acres for an expansion on the site. An environmental review to determine if the land is suitable for expansion is underway, but could take longer than 18 months.
Hicks praised Hoeven’s office for working to secure the commitment.
Hoeven State Director Jessica Lee said the facility’s main space next to the cemetery will be available for the honor guard if they can make a purchase with landowner Jake Gust.
She said the pledge was given to the NCA senator’s office, which has established rural cemeteries across the country to give veterans and their families a chance to be closer to gravesites.
Lee added that there remains a possibility that some type of public-private partnership could be worked out on the construction project between the NCA and the Honor Guard.
But first, the honor guard hopes to buy the land from Gust, who also sold the current 5 acres of the cemetery to the NCA and agreed to sell another 25-30 acres for the cemetery expansion.
The delay in completing the purchase of the land, as required by federal law, and then waiting for a building for perhaps several years has been a sticking point for the honor guard.
The nonprofit veterans group, which has honored veterans with ceremonies at every burial in the sometimes brutal conditions of the cemetery during the colder months, would like the gathering space to start perhaps as soon as ‘next year. The group has so far raised approximately $300,000 for the project, as well as in-kind contributions.
The facility could include a chapel, assembly hall, restrooms, warehouse and ceremonial site for Native American veterans. Since its opening in 2019, the cemetery has had 600 burials.
It is primarily designed for veterans and their spouses within a 75-mile radius, but Hicks said any veteran can be buried there.
Hicks said they are currently working on setting up a foundation that will raise funds for the upkeep of the building.
The NCA would also like to see a business plan for the project.
Lee said “all options are on the table” to complete the construction project.
The latest development of the project ensures that the NCA “will not get in the way” if the honor guard can finalize the purchase of the property, she said.