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Published November 10 2011

For two decades, a resting place for heroes

MANDAN, N.D. – Trevor Hendrickson is proud to say that his father is surrounded by North Dakota heroes.

In 2004, Kenneth Hendrickson of Bismarck was killed while serving in Iraq. He is now among the more than 5,000 veterans and family members whose final resting place is the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery south of Mandan.

“My dad was always kind of one to make us proud of living in America. I was always proud of my dad’s service,” said Trevor Hendrickson of Bismarck. “It’s important for me to have my father there (in the cemetery). I view it as an honor.”

This summer, the cemetery will mark 20 years since its first burial. The cemetery includes veterans who have served in every major conflict dating back to the Civil War. On Veterans Day and every day, the row after row of headstones is a reminder of North Dakotans willing to serve their country.

“North Dakotans have always been very patriotic, and it’s just very fitting that we offer such a fine facility, a respectful facility, for our veterans,” said Vietnam veteran Dave Rice of Fargo.

The Legislature authorized the cemetery in 1989. World War II and Korean veterans wanted a state cemetery, said Phil Miller, who manages the cemetery.

“It is what we consider hallowed ground to remember the veterans that served our country,” Miller said. “The veterans’ loved ones are aware of that and would like to have their veterans here at this site for that reason.”

Vietnam Veterans of America State President Dan Stenvold of Park River plans to be buried at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. The cemetery is “absolutely gorgeous” and well-maintained, he said.

“I think it goes back to the brotherhood,” he said of why veterans want to be buried there. “When we served, we were all together. This is just a last chance for us all to be together again.”

World War II veteran Conrad Newgren of Fargo also spoke of the connection among veterans.

“Most veterans, they bond together,” he said. “They seem to bond right away, even if you’ve never met them before.”

Veterans of wartime or peacetime service are eligible for burial at the cemetery if they received a discharge of honorable, under honorable conditions or general. National Guard or Reserve members who served at least six years are also eligible. Spouses and eligible dependents may also be buried there.

There is no cost to the veteran for burial, but there is a fee for spouses and eligible dependents. The cemetery is operated by the adjutant general of North Dakota and averages about 400 burials per year.

The cemetery receives funding from a variety of sources. The state pays for three full-time employees. Annual fees from the North Dakota veterans’ license plates support the cemetery maintenance account. The cemetery also receives donations from organizations and individuals. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ cemetery grants program recently gave more than $372,000 to the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. The money will be used to realign and clean gravestones and re-establish turf in areas worn down by traffic and damaged by construction.

The cemetery is a beautiful setting for veterans and a special place, said North Dakota American Legion Auxiliary President Betty Malkowski of Belfield.

“It’s an honor for the state to have the veterans’ cemetery to honor those veterans who have given so much of their time to give us the freedom that we all enjoy and have at the present time,” she said.

Wreath donations sought

Susan Roemmich of Spiritwood became interested in the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery after her brother, Alan, was killed nearly five years ago in Iraq.

Through a magazine, Roemmich learned about Wreaths Across America, which honors veterans by placing wreaths in cemeteries in December.

Her brother is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, so Roemmich decided to honor him closer to home. She and her husband will be in Mandan on Dec. 10 to help lay wreaths at the state Veterans Cemetery in memory of her brother and all veterans.

To donate to the program, visit wreathsacrossamerica.

org. Click on Thank a Veteran at the top of the screen. After selecting a wreath donation amount, you’re allowed to choose a state and cemetery for the donation.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.