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San Diego's National Cemeteries Honor Fallen Service Members On Memorial Day

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Memorial Day ceremonies at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar National Cemeteries were again paired down this year. The state is beginning to reopen due to a decrease in COVID-19 cases and an increase in the number of people vaccinated statewide.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today. We remember, and honor the men and women who died while serving in the U S military. One way of honoring them is through the beautification and expansion efforts underway at our national cemeteries. Earlier this morning, I spoke with Gretta Hamilton director at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar national cemeteries. Here's that interview? What is being done at San Diego's national cemeteries today to mark Memorial

Speaker 2: 00:24 Day? Well, we're still under COVID restrictions. The main thing that we did today was we placed a reef in a private ceremony at Miramar and Fort Rosecrans. Um, in honor, of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We also, on Saturday, we placed flags at Fort Rosecrans as well on the graves there in the cemetery, but for now, because we're under COVID and the restrictions came too late for us to do a major ceremony. It's a very quiet, similar cemetery ceremony, similar to last year.

Speaker 1: 01:00 What would you like people to reflect on, on this Memorial

Speaker 2: 01:04 Day Memorial day? And what I would like is for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, that's the day that it's for, but also for all veterans that served honorably and that are entered in our national cemeteries and also their family members, their children, their spouses, you know, that the sacrifice that they made.

Speaker 1: 01:24 Hmm. And, and you are an air force veteran and worked for the veterans benefits administration prior to going into cemetery administration. What called you to this field?

Speaker 2: 01:35 Oh, you know what? I always wanted to join the VA even as a child. Um, I don't know if anybody, cause I'm probably much older than most folks is when max Cleveland was ahead of the veteran administration before it became a department, he was a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded. And as he headed that the administration during the time, I was just amazed at the sacrifice he had made. He was an amputee or fallen out of grenade and lost both his legs and just the devotion he had for veterans. That was amazing to me, even as a child, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Cause I grew up as a military dependent and I watched my father go through the GI bill to get his first home and also to go back to school after he retired, you know, you're

Speaker 1: 02:25 Relatively new to this position in San Diego, having started in March and you're the first woman and woman of color to hold this post. What's the significance of that for you?

Speaker 2: 02:35 You know, any cemetery that, and I just can't delineate it out. Any cemetery that I go to, no matter how large or how small it's an honor and this community, it has a lot of history is military wise and both at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar. And it's just the honor to be selected because we through a rigorous interview process, um, to be Dave and get to the point to even be considered. So it means a lot to me just to be here, probably one of the busiest cemeteries in the national cemetery administration.

Speaker 1: 03:14 And you're directing a sort of renovation of the Miramar cemetery. Can you tell us about that project? We're

Speaker 2: 03:20 Going through a major innovation at both cemeteries. I'll start with Fort Rosecrans first. Um, the roads are, if anyone's ever been there, it's a beautiful view million dollar view, but we're, we're, we're updating the sewer system where redoing all of the roads, updating the lodge also, um, the grounds as well. So that it's more comfort, more ADA compliant with anyone that visited the cemetery. So a year from now, we're still in the design phase, but a year from now, you're going to see a lot of major going to Fort Rosecrans and at Fort Miramar, I'm sorry, Miramar national cemetery, because unfortunately it's the nature of what we do. The death toll is this high. I mean, we're going through, we've gone through most of the world war two and now we're seeing the Vietnam veterans as well, and the numbers are large. And so we have to expand. And so we're, we're putting in more, columbariums, we're doing more in ground casket, burial sites on Crip sites. You'll see that. And also just expanding our administration office so that we can accommodate the customer or what we've back to say our families in a more efficient manner

Speaker 1: 04:42 And are the increased numbers partly due to COVID?

Speaker 2: 04:45 No, I wouldn't say that. It's just that we're starting to see just, you know, the natural circle of life. We've seen numbers that are not, I wouldn't say alarming, but it, it gives you pause and let you know that it's out there. And then there's a threat to a certain demographic that we serve, which is the older veteran and his family and their family. Excuse me. Um,

Speaker 1: 05:07 You'd also like to tell military families about a digital remembrance platform. How does that work?

Speaker 2: 05:13 We have what is called the veterans, um, legacy Memorial. I'm sorry. I should have brought up the website for you as well, but veterans can now their family members, anyone that anyone in the world can go out online and look up any veteran that is buried in a cemetery and you can find out initially when they serve the branch of service, but it also gives the family members the opportunity to also to load the memories of pictures and also, um, letters, any kind of mementos that you would like to honor. So that that veteran can always be remembered. Our last under secretary, he was very big on that. Every veteran will never die. And in that sense, you mentioned their names will always be remembered. Then by having this veterans' legacy Memorial, we're able to ensure that vicious will be remembered and to imperpetuity. And

Speaker 1: 06:11 We've actually got that website. That website is V L M dot C E m.va.gov. I've been speaking to Gretta Hamilton director at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar national cemeteries. Gretta. Thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 06:27 Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.