HARWOOD, N.D. — Efforts are underway to secure upgrades for the Fargo National Cemetery and as part of that Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., played host this week to Matthew Quinn, Veterans Affairs under secretary for memorial affairs, who toured the Fargo cemetery with the senator.
Among the cemetery improvements Hoeven and others would like to see happen are walls that would protect visitors from the wind, something Quinn received a taste of as he walked the grounds of the cemetery on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
In addition to wind barriers, Hoeven said adding things like restrooms, a meeting area and expanded parking would also help make the Fargo National Cemetery, which is located near Harwood, a first-rate burial ground for veterans and their loved ones, adding that the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan could serve as a model for what the Fargo cemetery could be.
"That's the kind of facilities we want here," Hoeven told Quinn, who sat down with local veterans advocates in the North Dakota National Guard Armory in north Fargo.
As a member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Committee, Hoeven has worked to secure funding for the National Cemetery Administration and its rural initiative, under which the Fargo National Cemetery was established in 2019.
Hoeven said he's pushing for improvements at the Fargo National Cemetery and he has also helped introduce bipartisan legislation that would make eligible for burial in state veterans cemeteries, like the one in Mandan, members of the National Guard and reserves, so long as their service ended under honorable conditions.
Currently, if a cemetery gets federal grant funding, like the state veterans cemetery in Mandan, only certain servicemembers who meet national eligibility standards are allowed to be buried there, a situation that has led to uncertainty regarding whether the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery may be eligible for certain grants.
In the roughly two years it's been operating, the Fargo National Cemetery has hosted interments of nearly 500 veterans and their loved ones. The cemetery's nearly five acres has a capacity to accept about 3,600 sets of remains, and officials said the cemetery holds about 250 burials a year.
The cemetery's future was discussed at length during the gathering at the National Guard armory in Fargo, including input from Jake and Barbara Gust, whose family sold land to the VA for Fargo's national cemetery.
The Gusts said they have been approached by parties wanting to buy land from them and the couple would like to know whether the VA has any desire to acquire additional land for the cemetery.
"Both Barbara and I want this to be a first-class cemetery," Jake Gust said.
To which Barbara Gust added: "Right now, we need help with the decision about land. We just want to do the right thing."
"Let's work together on that," said Quinn, who also heard from Jason Hicks, a commander for the United Patriotic Bodies of Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead.
Hicks outlined plans volunteers have to purchase some land near the Fargo National Cemetery to build a chapel and indoor restrooms for people visiting the cemetery.
He said such niceties would also be appreciated by honor guard members who sometimes take part in ceremonies held on days when the weather is not pleasant.
Hoeven said recently passed legislation requires the National Cemetery Administration to review infrastructure needs at cemeteries like the one in Fargo. He said the legislation also encourages the agency to partner with state, local or private organizations to improve cemetery operations.