Veterans are important to our nation’s history because veterans are our history. Simply put, veterans made and molded America’s history. They did so through their selflessness, through their courage, with their patriotism, with their love of God and country, and with their blood. As a result, veterans are held in high regard around the country, and the Rio Grande Valley is no exception. The final resting place of veterans has been a priority for the Texas General Land Office, and their hard work and dedication has paid off with the recent official notification from the Department of Veterans Affairs of a grant that totals $555,378. The great news for the Valley is the grant award funds will be used solely at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery.
This already beautiful cemetery, known for its peaceful and reverent atmosphere, was first opened in 2006, and encompasses 75 acres in Hidalgo County. Located on a former agricultural field on the Rio Grande in Mission, this cemetery initially required substantial aesthetic enhancements in order to serve as an appropriate setting for Texas veterans.
Phase One covered approximately 31 acres and included 2,430 burial sites, 2,000 double-depth lawn crypts, 1,300 in-ground sites, and 500 columbarium niches, as well as an administration and maintenance building complex with a gravesite locator, public restrooms, a central assembly area, and committal service shelter. At the time of its opening, nearly 45,000 veterans lived within the service radius of the cemetery. In the intervening 12 years, that number has risen considerably, hence the need to expand on Phase One.
Eric Brown, deputy director of Texan State Veterans Cemeteries, explained what this means for current veteran residents of the Valley area who number in the tens of thousands.
“Providing veterans and their spouses with honorable and dignified interment services is an earned benefit acquired through their honorable service to our nation,” he said. “These hallowed grounds represent the gratitude of a grateful state and nation.”
Although an area of great beauty, like all buildings, some parts of the cemetery have required some repairs. The grant money will be used to replace failing and cracking columbarium capstones with a more durable and natural stone harvested from a quarry. In addition, capstones at the front entrance of the cemetery and small pillars holding the branch of service seals at the cemetery assembly area will also be replaced.
This is good news for residents, and those whose family members are buried there.
“It’s a beautiful cemetery for military families, and it’s nice to know that all veterans and their wives can be buried together,” resident Daniel Ramirez said. “It is very well kept and I’m glad there’s a place here in the Valley for veterans and their families.”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization, and the Veterans Cemetery is no exception. Volunteers place Christmas wreaths on the gravesites in the days leading up to Dec. 25, they place flags on the gravesites ahead of Veterans Day, and help organize a Memorial Day ceremony. They also provide a host of other services, such as Honor Guards.
Currently, through the effort of local volunteers, full military honors are provided to every veteran interred at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans cemeteries. If not for the volunteer honors detail, the Department of Defense requires only a two-man fold. Retirees, general officers, those killed in action, or those who pass on active duty would otherwise be the only service members receiving “full” military honors.
Spouses and eligible family members are also eligible to be interred at the cemetery free of charge. Families seeking interment at a state or national cemetery can contact the cemetery directly, but typically work through a funeral home to ensure the interment needs for their loved ones are met. The option also exists for pre-registration at both the state and national cemeteries. The cemetery of choice can be contacted directly for additional information.
Veterans Land Board Texas State Veterans Cemeteries are special resting places, close to home, where friends, family and fellow Texans can honor Texas veterans, and the one located in Mission is a fine example of what it means to honor these selfless, dedicated men and women of the United States Armed Forces.
For more information on the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery and their services, call (956) 583-7227.