Eye on KELOLAND

SD's First State Veterans Cemetery

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A piece of land meant for a proposed Veterans cemetery in northern Sioux Falls will soon be in the state's hands. 

The City of Sioux Falls approved an ordinance gifting 60 acres of land to the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs this past week. The National Cemetery Administration has also notified the state that it may be awarded grant funds for construction costs. 

This plot of land, north of where Interstates 90 and 229 meet, could soon be the final resting place for many South Dakota heroes. 

"I stand out here and it's so breathtaking. The location couldn't be more perfect," Veteran Erin Bultje said. 

Bultje served in the Army with the First Armored Division out of Germany. She says the cemetery will not only be a memorial to service members who have passed away, it will be a place of reflection for many who are still alive. 

"I'm very proud to have served my country. I'm very proud of the friendships that I've made that have turned into lifelong friendships and just to be able to stand tall with that 1-percent of the population that has served," Bultje said. 

Bultje, who's also the Executive Director of South Dakota Joining Forces, says Veterans cemeteries can bring out a lot of emotions. While she was in Luxembourg years ago, she sought out her great uncle's grave. He died serving in Europe during World War II. After the visit, she brought pictures back for her grandfather.

Matt Holsen: What did that mean to your Grandpa?

Erin Bultje: I think his tears said it all because he was never able to and that was his favorite uncle. 

If South Dakota gets its way, Sioux Falls will be the next city to gain a Veterans cemetery. South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Aaron Pollard says the state is waiting on a $6 million federal grant before it can start construction hopefully sometime late next year. 

"Making big steps. Next week we meet with the National Cemetery Administration and our design team to hopefully narrow down the design concept and go over some other things that would involve construction of the cemetery," Pollard said. 

If you're wondering what the facility could look like, check out this video. Minnesota has two state Veterans cemeteries. This is video of a new one that just opened in Preston in 2016. 

"The thing that strikes you anytime you enter one of these cemeteries is just the grand entrance and the avenue of flags and you know, you know when you enter that it's a sacred place. It's important. It's a place where heroes and their families can go and be laid to rest," Pollard said. 

Minnesota also has another state cemetery being built in Duluth. 

While South Dakota boasts the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, Bultje says Veterans on the east side of South Dakota have been underserved.

"Now they don't have to make that decision. They can be buried close to home with their fellow Veterans, comrades in arms and their family," Bultje said. 

Matt Holsen: Is this a place that you would like to buried yourself.

Erin Bultje: Absolutely. I'd be honored to. 

A finish line for the project is in sight. Pollard says it's taken a lot of help to get to this point. 

"It's been a true collaborative effort and the support that's gotten behind Veterans and their families is just, it's great to see. That's why we live in South Dakota," Pollard said. 

The state has already provided $600,000 for the project  An additional $3 million needs to be raised in five years for the cemetery's endowment fund.


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