My Turn, Ronnie Smith: National cemetery vital for families in region

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

By Ronnie Smith

As an Air Force and Vietnam veteran, a member of our local veterans’ organizations, including the VFW, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Military Officers Association of America, and on behalf of many Rowan County veterans, I feel we would be remiss if we did not respond to a letter to the editor published Feb. 5 (“Words appreciating service empty, phony”) regarding our Salisbury National Cemetery. 

I have had the honor and privilege of working with our Salisbury National Cemetery and the cemetery staff for many years. I have always found the staff to be very courteous, professional and especially respectful in carrying out their duties and working with the families of our veterans.

With all due respect to those of us who may not be familiar with the cemetery policies and procedures, it may be important to know that our Salisbury National Cemetery is currently the only national cemetery in North Carolina accepting veteran burials.  

On any single day of the week, our cemetery staff may have to schedule as many as six or more funerals and burials at the cemetery. In fact, many veterans’ families from across the Southeast have chosen our national cemetery as the final resting place for their loved ones.

With only so many hours in the day, yes, there is a strict schedule for services, especially under the shelter. Often, beginning in the early morning and continuing until late in the day, a funeral service is held almost every hour on a “first scheduled, first served” basis as other families and visitors arrive to wait their turn for their next scheduled service. Please understand there is certainly no disrespect intended if a family may be inconvenienced so that another family can memorialize their veteran or veterans’ spouse on such a fixed schedule.

It may also be important to know our Salisbury cemetery is nationally recognized as one of the largest and best in the Southeast United States. Although our Salisbury National Cemetery is rapidly filling up, thanks to a group of local Rowan County veterans and a coordinated community effort, an additional 30-plus acres adjacent to the cemetery is being added. This will enable our Salisbury National Cemetery to continue to operate as an “active” cemetery for thousands of veterans and their families for many years in the future. Otherwise, our Salisbury National Cemetery could be closed to future burials, and interments would be held at the national cemetery at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, or other out-of-state locations. This may not be a viable option for many local veterans’ families.

As fellow veterans and volunteers, we thank and salute the staff of our Salisbury National Cemetery for the exceptional service they provide to our many veterans and their families.

And thanks also to the many scouts and citizens who volunteer their time to help place American flags and holiday wreaths on every grave on Memorial Day and Christmas each year. It is a tribute never to be forgotten by each family.  

We should all be extremely proud of our national cemetery in Salisbury. And, yes, we thank all of our veterans for their service to our country.

Ronnie Smith lives in Salisbury.