REDWOOD FALLS — Unity and the respect they deserve for military veterans were the themes Wednesday as Governor Tim Walz and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar led a groundbreaking ceremony for the new State Cemetery of veterans.
Work will now begin to develop 21.7 acres as part of the first of 10 phases to eventually complete an 81-acre cemetery on the site just east of Redwood Falls. It will be the fourth state veterans cemetery and will serve more than 20,000 veterans.
The state legislature approved $4.5 million for the project this year after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration committed $11.2 million in 2020. Redwood County purchased land for the cemetery and has been working since 2009 to secure state and federal funding.
Strong, high winds whipped flags held firmly by members of the honor guard as a large crowd, including many veterans from across the region, gathered under a tent erected for the event.
Highlighting the divisions that are all too common today, Governor Walz told the audience, “What you see is an absolutely unified front around one of our nation’s core values, and that is concern for those who are ready to serve.”
The governor, a 24-year Army National Guard veteran, also spoke of the respect shown to veterans by the care provided at veterans cemeteries across the state.
“Because veterans support each other,” Walz said. “The veterans stand side by side. All the differences that we see, especially when you walk into this special place, all of those differences are gone. We live in this perfect democracy, where we are sisters and brothers in the service of this nation. »
Senator Klobuchar joined Walz in emphasizing that cemeteries play an important role in showing respect to veterans for their service. She noted that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of its significance on the Gettysburg battlefield, where the 1st Minnesota held the line and saved the battle for the Union at the cost of many lives.
“It’s the same idea, that we respect our veterans,” Klobuchar said. “We show them when they come home, not with tomatoes like what happened after the Vietnam War. We show it to their families by giving them a beautiful and dignified resting place. is that place.
Klobuchar said the location of this cemetery in Redwood Falls is significant. Rural Minnesota has a higher proportion of its population serving its country, and it’s important that families be close to loved ones.
According to Larry Herke, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Redwood Falls was considered a “sweet spot” in terms of serving the veteran population in western Minnesota. Otherwise, the nearest Veterans National Cemeteries are 100 miles away at Fort Snelling and a new cemetery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Minnesota has now served more than 10,000 veterans at its three state cemeteries located in Little Falls, Preston and Duluth, according to Herke.
State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, called it “a very important day for rural Minnesota.” He said there were more than 70,000 veterans living within 75 miles of the new cemetery site.
In addition to a traditional groundbreaking ceremony with shovels, the dedication included a rifle salute and tap dancing, as well as a Dakota prayer offered by an elder from the Lower Sioux community.
Lydia Conito, who is also a U.S. Navy veteran, sang a Dakota prayer and sprinkled four traditional medicines – sage, sweetgrass, tobacco grown on the Lower Sioux Reservation and flat cedar – on the grounds of the new cemetery .
Conito served as a member of the hospital corps from 1958 to 1960. She was motivated by her family’s tradition of service. Her uncle, Norman Dow, was awarded the Purple Heart after giving his life on the Normandy beach during the D-Day invasion.
She reminded those who gathered that the new cemetery is on land ceded to the US government by the Dakota people. It is also located near the site of the agency where the War of 1862 began when the treaty fell through, she told the audience.
“This is the ground you stand on,” Conito said, adding, “I’m so happy. It feels like, I feel like the circle is coming to an end. That now our veterans will have a safe place to live in. And the day they meet their Creator, they will all be so helpful and happy. They will meet all their loved ones right here on this earth.
1/4: An honor guard salutes with a rifle as the state’s new Veterans Cemetery is dedicated Oct. 13, 2021. The site is located east of Redwood Falls. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
2/4: This is an aerial view of what the Fourth Veterans State Cemetery will look like when completed. The cemetery is located east of Redwood Falls near US Highway 71, visible in the lower portion of the image. Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs
3/4: Redwood Valley High School band principal Paul Berggren performs tap dancing Oct. 13, 2021, during the dedication ceremony for the new Veterans State Cemetery outside of Redwood Falls. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
4/4: Lydia Conito, a member of the Lower Sioux community and veteran, offers four Dakota drugs to hallow the grounds of the state’s newest Veterans Ceremony during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 13, 2021, near Redwood Falls. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune