What was once a military training ground is now a scenic cemetery with a place for veterans to be laid to rest. As it gets ready to expand beyond phase one, the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery on the former Fort Ord received recognition on Oct. 9 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which presented an Organizational Excellence Award.
California Veterans Affairs Secretary Vito Imbasciani and State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, both attended the event to accept the award on behalf of the cemetery. Imbasciani and Monning have both been influential in the development of the cemetery, which opened in 2016, and is operated by CalVet.
Combat veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger Tony Virrueta sees the recognition as well deserved. “It has been a labor of love to have the cemetery come into fruition,” he says. “The Monterey Peninsula and Salinas are home to second-, third- and fourth-generation veterans. The award of excellence will assist with further development of the cemetery and the needs of the families related to our departed veterans.”
A boost to those needs came on Sept. 25, when the office of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, announced a $6.4 million grant from the VA National Cemetery Administration to expand of the cemetery.
To date, only the first phase of the master plan for the cemetery had been implemented. Phase one restricts burials to above-ground and cremation. Historically, in-ground burials are the most common and most preferred method for burial in the United States.
This grant will fund the construction of 1,842 pre-placed crypts, 1,039 in-ground cremains gravesites, 80 memorial wall plaques, and supporting infrastructure like roadway and landscaping. The project will develop 5.6 acres, enabling the cemetery to provide continued service for about 84,400 veterans, according to a statement from Panetta’s office.
The VA created the Organizational Excellence Award for state and tribal cemeteries in May 2018. It recognizes outstanding service to veterans and their family members in all areas of operations. Interment operations, grounds maintenance, headstone, marker and niche cover operations are among the 90 applicable measures used.