BOZEMAN, Mont. – On Sunday, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, people from around the Gallatin Valley gathered at the Sunset Hills Cemetery to honor veterans who have served throughout the years.
The Sunset Hills service takes place each year, but this time a surprise was in store.
“I have been ready for a long time,” said Navy veteran Jim Korth. “And it has been a long time coming and myself, just like my fellow veterans, we are ready to get this thing going.”
The project being unveiled has been in the works for several years: a Southwest Montana Veterans Cemetery. The reality of the process moving forward sunk in for several of the vets as they dug their shovel into the frozen ground for the ceremonial groundbreaking.
“Putting the shovel in the dirt, you know. I am not much of a guy that likes to play in dirt, but that was awesome,” said Legion Commander Len Albright.
Albright says 34 percent of Montana vets live in southwest Montana, yet up until now there have only been two vet cemeteries in the state, one in Helena and another in Laurel.
“I mean, there are a lot of folks like to visit their loved ones’ remains and they are going to be close,” said American Legion Post 30 Commander Hank Adams. “They are going to be able to go and do it on a fairly regular basis. Instead if they are up in Helena they might not make it there more than once a year, if at all.”
“There are a lot of people in this area that have lost their veterans since we started this and they might be holding those ashes on the mantel or somewhere just waiting for the day this opens up,” said Korth.
The Veterans Alliance hopes to unveil the cemetery in the next year, but Albright said there is a lot that needs to be done in order to accomplish this goal. The alliance said one of the main focuses is raising more money and working with the city and county to get permits finished.
Once the cemetery is finished it will hold six columbariums, a service shelter, a restroom and several plots for headstones.