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This page last updated June 11, 2018

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Duluth is the third State Veterans Cemetery, following Preston and Little Falls, and is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

The State Veterans Cemetery north of Duluth seen from the air. The 104-acre site, located along U.S. Highway 53 in Grand Lake Township, includes an administrative building, maintenance shop, shelter for burial services, a columbarium for cremated remains and a flag plaza.

 

The gate to the State Veterans Cemetery north of Duluth.

 

A rendering of the administration building at the State Veterans Cemetery north of Duluth.

 

A rendering of the committal shelter at the State Veterans Cemetery north of Duluth.

 

A second summer of construction has begun on the state's newest veterans cemetery, set to open this fall.

The State Veterans Cemetery near Duluth doesn't have a finalized opening date yet, but construction is expected to wrap up later this year, said veteran cemeteries director David Swantek.

Swantek said they've "made a lot of progress," despite weather slowing the project down.

"But we're back, picking up where we left off in the fall when things froze up and we've got another full summer of construction to go out there," Swantek said.

Work on the 104-acre site, located along U.S. Highway 53 in Grand Lake Township, includes constructing an administrative building, maintenance shop, committal shelter for burial services, a columbarium for cremated remains and a flag plaza; installing the road infrastructure and storm sewer system; and completing the landscaping, Swantek said. The creation of the new cemetery is funded by a federal cemetery grant, along with some state funding. The state will be responsible for the operating expenses once it opens and a dedicated local administrator will oversee it, he said.

 

John Marshall, captain of the Duluth Honor Guard that provides military honors at funerals, pointed out that the cemetery will give veterans in northern Minnesota an opportunity to be laid to rest where their families can more easily visit. The only other state veterans cemeteries are located in Little Falls in central Minnesota and Preston in southern Minnesota, in addition to the national veterans cemetery at Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities.

 

"I've been doing military honors for about 20 years. It's sad for me to see families see their loved ones shipped off to a state or federal cemetery," Marshall said.

Once the cemetery opens, burials for veterans and their dependents can begin. However, veterans and eligible dependents can pre-register to establish their eligibility for future burial. Ninety-one people have pre-registered since administration began accepting the registrations several months ago, Swantek said. To pre-register, people can contact their county Veteran Service Office or the State Veterans Cemetery in Preston at (507) 765-7320.

 

"Our process is either a veteran or eligible dependent, for example a spouse of a veteran or dependent child, passes away. The burial is scheduled and we assign the gravesite at that time," Swantek said.

The cemetery's master plan calls for a total of 16,000 gravesites, but it will be developed in phases as the gravesites fill. Each phase is expected to take 10 years to fill. The first phase is 19 acres and will include 1,257 casket sites, 720 columbarium niches for urns and 1,078 in-ground cremation sites, according to Swantek.

Funds have been raised to install a monument at the new cemetery honoring Vietnam War veterans afflicted by Agent Orange. The monument, created by New York sculptor Wayne Williams, will feature a Vietnam-era soldier striding toward and disappearing into a wall. The wall has been installed and the statue of the soldier is ready to placed once the concrete for the monument's location has been poured, Marshall said.

The opening of the new veterans cemetery is personal for Marshall. In addition to now having the ability to be buried close to home, he wants to provide families with the best funeral service that he can and honor those who have served, he said.

"It's a nice thing, a nice token for our veterans community and our community as a whole," he said.


The completed monument is a replica of a monument currently on display in New York.  The ten-foot tall monument will depict a life-size soldier walking into the wall, with the inscription "Walking into the Unknown" written on the top. The $120,000 monument was funded almost exclusively by donors. 

John Marshall's time on the front lines ended years ago, but his fight is far from over.

"The majority of the funerals that we are doing, and we do about 200 a year, the majority of them are Vietnam or Vietnam Era," said Marshall.

Marshall is a captain in Duluth's honor guard. A retired military man himself, Marshall spends his time in the Northland ensuring veterans are given a hero's burial.

"Vietnam Veterans are very dear to me, and they've been some of my best friends," he said.

Come this fall, when the Pike Like Veteran's Cemetery is completed, a good portion of those 200 burials will take place there. The cemetery has been in the works for several years, but now it's nearing completion. The 100-acre cemetery in is estimated to have space for nearly 16,000 burial plots. Marshall says that's enough room for the next 40 to 80 years of Northland military funerals.  The cemetery will house in-ground, and above ground inurnment sites, and plots for casket burials. 

Marshall says the need for a veterans cemetery in the Northland is big. The closest veterans cemetery in Minnesota is in Little Falls, about 150 miles from Duluth.  Another state veterans cemetery is being developed near in southeastern Minnesota near Preston. The most notable veterans cemetery in Minnesota is Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities, but that is a National Cemetery. Marshall says this will allow the families of loved ones to be nearer to their fallen heroes.

"By having something more local and more central for Duluth and the Iron Range, it's a beautiful thing because it will allow family members to come and visit their loved ones, just sit and talk with them and just visit," he said.

Most of the work on the cemetery has been done by outside agencies and was funding by an $8-million grant. But Marshall has been the lead on a very special veterans memorial monument set in the heart of the cemetery.

Marshall said, "I think this monument will create a lot of healing for veterans in this community, especially Vietnam Veterans."

The completed monument is a replica of a monument currently on display in New York.  The ten-foot tall monument will depict a life-size soldier walking into the wall, with the inscription "Walking into the Unknown" written on the top. The $120,000 monument was funded almost exclusively by donors.

"Without them, this project would be another year out," said Marshall.

"It's important to us because we like to show the support and the respect for the veterans and those that have served," said Patrick Gallagher, with Kraus-Anderson, a major donor to the memorial.

Gallagher is a 33-year veteran himself, which is why he and his company have donated thousands of dollars to the effort.

"It's really important to me to support the veterans and remember those that are still alive that are dealing with past conflicts that we have had," said Gallagher.

They're one of the numerous local donors who ensured not only the memorial but the cemetery is able to move forward. Hibbing based Bougalis and Sons is also a major donor to the cemetery.

"It warms the heart. For me, it gives me a sense of real pride for the community in which we live," said Marshall.  

A Purple Heart memorial is also in the works at the cemetery. It would be connected to the veterans memorial monument by a short walking path. Marshall is currently working to secure donations for that memorial as well.

Construction on the cemetery has been delayed in prior months, as a wet summer in 2017 led to more than 30 working days being missed. As it sits now, they are expecting to be open in the fall of this year, but they are already taking burial  plot per-reservations. Click here to go to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs -Memorials and Burials.