SW La. Veterans Cemetery now a reality

JENNINGS — After 16 years of planning, dreaming and hard work the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery became a reality Friday as officials gathered on the hallowed grounds just north of the veterans home to dedicate the facility to veterans and their families.

“The vision is complete, but the work is not done,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “There are 10 acres here to serve as the final resting place of honor for 1,777 veterans and their closest family members and one day we will run out of room on those 10 acres, but the good news is there is 10 more and we can expand this site when that happens.”

The cemetery, which is the state’s fifth and final state-run veteran cemetery, will be the site of military burials by April.07_veterans cemetery dedication 3_jpg

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards speaks Friday during the dedication ceremony for the new Southwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Jennings. The cemetery will include nearly 2,000 burial sites, an administration building, maintenance facility, gravesite location kiosk and a committal service shelter to hold interment services. A bell tower will be added in the future.

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“This ensures they (veterans) are taken care of even after their time on earth is done,” Edwards said. “For many veterans, knowing they have a place to be buried close to home and close to their loved ones is a source of comfort and relief that provides peace of mind to them and their family members.”

The cemetery will include 380 columbarium niches for cremated remains and 1,212 in-ground crypts for caskets and urns. It will also have an administration building, maintenance facility, gravesite location kiosk and a committal service shelter to hold interment services. A bell tower will be added in the future.

“It’s an awesome day for veterans,” U.S. Army veteran Al Cochran of Lake Charles said. “This has been very needed for the veterans who need a place to be buried closer to home without having to worry about having a safe and secure place to be buried.”

Terry Courville of Kinder, who is state president of the Louisiana State Vietnam Veterans Association, has been waiting for this day to come.

“It means so much to the local area because we all gave to our country and this will be the final place to rest for our veterans,” Courville said.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>&lsquo;The cemetery means a lot to several people, but mainly my family. We are finally going to be able to lay my dad to rest where he&rsquo;s always wanted to be.&rsquo;<br />Charlotte Thibodeaux<br />SW La. Veterans Home assistant to the administrator</p>” id=”f72b1c7d-5f75-408b-b34c-021ed28bca76″ style-type=”quote” title=”Pull Quote” type=”relcontent”}}

Col. Joey Strickland, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, praised the governor for keeping his promise.

“Four years ago Gov. John Bel Edwards gave his word to the 50,000 veterans of Southwest Louisiana from Breaux Bridge to the Texas border that they would have a cemetery to call their own,” Strickland said. “He made a promise. He kept his promise.”

He credited former state Sens. Jerry Theunissen and Dan “Blade” Morrish with having the foresight to request additional land next to the veterans home for the cemetery.

“Our dream is now a reality,” Strickland said. “This cemetery allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to further fulfill its mission to provide a final resting place of honor for the veterans including the Louisiana National Guard, their spouses and their dependent children of Southwest Louisiana.”

“We have fulfilled our mission to the veterans of this state,” he continued. “We have five beautiful homes and five state veteran cemeteries which we are authorized based on our veteran population.”

Charlotte Thibodeaux, the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home assistant to the administrator, said her father, Ed Gary, will be the first to be interned. Gary died in 2017 at the age of 73.

“The cemetery means a lot to several people, but mainly my family,” an emotional Thibodeaux said. “We are finally going to be able to lay my dad to rest where he’s always wanted to be.”

Gary was passionate about veteran care and very adamant about getting the cemetery in the area, she said.

“He did everything he could to get the cemetery here,” Thibodeaux said.

Theunissen said the cemetery will be a “lasting place for our heroes to take eternal rest.”

Raymond Baltoff, a resident at the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home, wants to be buried in the cemetery so that he can be closer to the men with whom he served.

“It is great for us to have something like this,” he said. “We can come out to see the men being buried and know they have a peaceful place to rest.”

Father Charles McMillian of Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church said the cemetery will be a place of rest, hope and honor to all veterans and their families. It will also serve as a comfort to the living as a sign of hope for the end of life, he said.

Construction of the cemetery was made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Cemetery Grants Service in cooperation with the state of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs and others dedicated to honoring all veterans.‘The cemetery means a lot to several people, but mainly my family. We are finally going to be able to lay my dad to rest where he’s always wanted to be.’

Charlotte Thibodeaux

SW La. Veterans Home assistant to the administrator

The Marine Corps League of Lake Charles presents the colors Friday during the opening ceremony for the dedication of the new Southwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Jennings. The cemetery, which is the state’s fifth and final state run veterans cemetery, will be the site of military burials by April.
Doris MaricleJefferson Davis Parish Reporter
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Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home Assistant Administrator Sam Doucet speaks Friday during the dedication ceremony for the new Southwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Jennings. The 10 acre site, just north of the Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home, will be the final resting place for 1,777 veterans and eligible family members.
Doris MaricleJefferson Davis Parish Reporter
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Holly Blanchard sings “God Bless America” as Gov. John Bel Edwards and other officials look on Friday during the dedication ceremony for the new Southwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Jennings. 
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