Delaware veterans ceremony receives national honor

The Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear received a national honor for its service. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

The Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear received a national honor for its service. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

The individuals who run the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear were honored with an award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tuesday.

The cemetery is one of only four state and tribal cemeteries out of 111 in the U.S. to receive this year’s Operational Excellence Award for achievement in internment operations, grounds maintenance, and headstone, maker and niche cover operations.

“If it were not for our state and tribal cemeteries we would not be able to reach the number of veterans we do across the country in providing dignified burial options for veterans and their families within 75 miles of their homes,” said Randy Reeves, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs for the National Cemetery Administration.

“Just last year over 22 percent of total internments across the nation were done by state and tribal cemeteries. We wouldn’t have that access for veterans and their families if it weren’t for professionals just like these who do this work each and every day.”

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Every day, four internments take place at the cemetery, where staff prepare the grounds, lower the caskets, replace the earth and even sod over the area so a visitor would never know an internment has just taken place.

In 2016, the VA awarded a $3.67 million expansion grant for the Bear cemetery, which provides a final resting place for 45,000 Delaware veterans and their eligible family members.

“This (award) means our cemetery employees are being recognized for the hard work they do on a daily basis,” said Larence Kirby, executive director of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs.

“It’s not easy dealing with the sadness, and the physical labor of maintaining a cemetery, and unfortunately, a lot of folks overlook that. So the award reflects their ability to comfort loved ones and prepare a site for eternal rest.”

Gov. John Carney also attended the ceremony.

“This space, there’s something very peaceful and restful about it. It is often the case a slight breeze blows from the west to the east, and somehow you can feel the spirit of the veterans who are buried here and for what they represented,” he said. “We couldn’t be prouder, I couldn’t be prouder as governor, of the individuals who carry out this responsibility so well here at our veterans cemetery.”

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