An expansion of the State Veterans Cemetery that officials say is needed to keep up with an increasing pace of burials has begun.
More than 7,000 veterans are buried at the cemetery and there will be an additional 2,000 burial plots on eight acres once the $5.45 million expansion is done, acting Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Thomas Saadi said after a groundbreaking ceremony. Saadi said there is a tremendous need for the expansion.
“In the past several years we have seen a significant increase in our annual burials here, we realized we had to look toward expanding this cemetery,” Saadi said.
He said the number of burials in the state veterans cemeteries was about 300 a year a decade ago and is now at 600. Much of that increase is driven by the death of World War II veterans, most of whom are in their early or mid-90s, he said.
“The section of this cemetery for Jewish veterans had 10 or 12 people buried in it 15 years ago, now it’s full. This is what is happening to our veterans community,” said Marty Pear, an Air Force veteran of the Korean war from Middletown who is active in the Jewish War Veterans and other veterans groups. “I was worried we would run out of grave plots here.”
George Eisenbach, director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ cemetery grants program, said the trend in Connecticut is matched nationwide.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman called the cemetery a sacred place.
“The men and women buried here are heroes who made tremendous sacrifices to serve Connecticut and the nation,” Wyman said. “These improvements are part of our overall commitment to our veterans and their families.”
A federal grant is funding the expansion. Saadi said the hope is that the additional burial spaces will be enough to last another 10 years.
The federal government has given the state another $3.17 million to improve existing headstones in the cemetery. Saadi said the rows of headstones would be realigned to improve the appearance of the cemetery.
Saadi said planning for the two projects began more than a year ago. Work on both began this month and the expansion is expected to be finished a year from now. The other project should be done by February 2020, officials said on Tuesday.
According to the state Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 12,000 veterans and their dependents are buried in its three cemeteries. In addition to the one in Middletown, the others are in Rocky Hill and Darien. The cemetery in Darien is closed for burials.