Veterans of the United States Armed Forces have sacrificed greatly in service to our country. One way that our state can express our gratitude for their service is to ensure a dignified final-resting place to honor them and their eligible dependents.
There are over 40,000 veterans living in eastern South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and two counties in Nebraska. Currently, the nearest veterans' cemeteries are either Sturgis, South Dakota or Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota. This makes it very difficult and expensive for those living in this region to have a military burial.
Happily, this will soon change. Several individuals, organizations and government entities have collaborated to make possible a new state veterans cemetery to be located north of Sioux Falls.
Many of our South Dakota veterans spent over a decade working on the project. It would not have been possible though without help from others. During the 2018 South Dakota Legislative Session, veterans, veterans service organizations, legislators, lobbyists, Sioux Falls community leaders, the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (SDDVA) and the governor all came together to secure passage of legislation authorizing SDDVA to establish and maintain a state veterans cemetery in Minnehaha County.
Senate Bill 91 was introduced with 104 sponsors and was approved unanimously by both the House and the Senate. The legislation authorized SDDVA to seek federal funding from the National Cemetery Administration. The City of Sioux Falls gifted the state more than 60 acres of land just north of the I-229/I-90 interchange, off Slip Up Creek Road and 477th Avenue. In addition, the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the State a $6.9 million National Cemetery grant to get the project across the finish line. Key supporters from the Sioux Falls area include: the South Dakota Veterans Council, Sioux Falls Municipal Government, Stockwell Engineers, Journey Construction, Mapleton Township, State Senator Jim Stalzer and State Representative Larry Zikmund.
This cemetery will be built in ten to twelve phases and will provide for a total of 7,320 pre-placed crypts, 13,179 in-ground cremains sites, 7,920 columbarium niches, and 100 memorial wall markers for a total of 28,519 burial sites. A groundbreaking was held on September 9 for phase one of this project. This portion of the project will develop approximately 12.9 acres and will include 2,319 burial sites, a main entrance, an avenue of flags, an administration building, a maintenance facility, roads, an assembly area, a committal shelter, scatter burial area, a memorial walkway, landscaping and supporting infrastructure.
Senate Bill 91 also authorized the South Dakota Veterans Council to establish an endowment fund for future maintenance for the state veteran's cemetery. The Council partnered with the South Dakota Community Foundation to establish the endowment. The state has committed to an annual contribution of $150,000 and the remaining funds will be privately raised.
More information on the State Veterans Cemetery, including a pre-application form, can be found at vetaffairs.sd.gov.
This South Dakota state veterans cemetery is a project for veterans by veterans. It was their passion for this project that kept the momentum going and made the dream a reality. This cemetery will be a tribute to patriots. It will immortalize the sacrifices that have been made for our freedoms. To all that supported the first step in this endeavor, a big heartfelt "thank you."