HARWOOD, ND — Both sides of a controversy over the building of toilets at Fargo National Cemetery called for calm Thursday, July 28, at an open house that drew officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representatives of the state and cemetery volunteers.
“We need to step back and act like adults, work together,” said Jim Graalum, fundraiser for the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard.
David Huth, director of the Fort Snelling National Cemetery complex, which oversees Fargo National Cemetery, echoed that sentiment, saying, “I don’t understand why this is a controversy, but the memorial honor guard de Fargo has lost focus and we need to work together. .”
At the moment, a portable toilet is near the main entrance. The controversy centers around a vault-style rest room to be built near the front door.
The Veterans Administration is about to begin the $250,000 cemetery improvement project to build the restrooms as well as a wind wall and storage building. For the VA, the problem comes down to time, maintenance and funds needed for running water, indoor plumbing and electricity, Huth said, adding that he was open to discussing options.
The opposing side, led by members of the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard, claims that building the toilets at Fargo National Cemetery amounts to building an outhouse in the same ground where veterans are buried.
The problem started in October 2019, Huth said, but in recent months it has heated up.
“They are focusing on underground toilets when they should be focusing on performing military rites. Some members of the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard were hostile and the VA came under attack,” Huth said.
“If you cross them, they will come after you,” he said.
Huth said he felt attacked after reading a series of emails in which people called him stupid, among other names.
Recently, Jason Hicks, a Fargo Memorial honor guard leader and deputy with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, was suspended from volunteer work with the honor guard for six months due to such “attacks.” , Huth said.
“Yes, I have taken action. I demand of my people that we provide courteous and competent service to our veterans. And when I see some members not doing so, I will take action,” he said. he stated, declining to discuss the matter further.
In 2015, the Clay County Sheriff’s Department suspended Hicks without pay for making online remarks suggesting that a man banned from public swimming pools in Fargo for taking photos should have been physically assaulted.
Attempts to reach Hicks for this story were unsuccessful.
Graalum’s brother Rick approached Huth as he spoke, calling his statements “lies” and “defamation”.
Jim Graalum, however, said the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard has big dreams for the cemetery and eventually hopes to include a museum and a bigger parking lot.
He welcomed recent news from Sen. John Hoeven, RN.D., regarding the pressure on the Veterans Administration to add heat and power to their cemetery improvement project.
“We continue to lobby the NCA (National Cemetery Association) for a sanitation facility that includes not only heat and electricity but also running water with flush toilets. At this point, they have made a commitment to us to add heat and electricity, and we will continue to press for running water and flushing toilets,” Hoeven said in a statement. Press.
Over the past several months, the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard has led a major fundraising campaign to build a gathering center adjacent to the cemetery with a chapel, indoor restrooms, storage, meeting and assembly hall, and a proposed ceremonial area for Native American veterans adjacent to the structure.
The fundraising effort raised about half of the $2.5 million needed, but the project also requires about five acres of land, which Graalum is still trying to secure.
“We need the land for the next stage of fundraising,” he said.
Hoeven and the VA added in the press release that efforts are underway to help the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard acquire land and set up necessary facilities.
“The VA will continue to make improvements to the infrastructure at Fargo National Cemetery and make improvements as our rural burial initiative progresses,” said Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matthew Quinn, in a press release.
Jessica Hill, state director of Hoeven’s office, said, “We all know where we want to go. We started with nothing here, and we’re improving it. And we are not done.