Since the day it opened last year, the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery has been a cemetery that lacked in-ground burials. Right now, it only has space for cremated remains. But that will change with a new infusion of funds.
At 72, Cliff Guinn still stands straight the flagpole in his front yard where he flies the Stars and Stripes. That plus his perfectly manicured yard and fresh pressed shirt immediately tells you this guy is ex-military: 20 years, Army soldier.
“It was a million dollar life changing experience that I wouldn’t give you a nickel for,” says Guinn.
It was a big part of his life. Even though he is retired, he still thinks of himself as a soldier. So he doesn’t want to be buried in any cemetery. He really wants to be buried with his buddies.
“I know that I am going to be with my fellow soldiers of all services, and all these patriots gave their lives. And to me that’s important,” says Guinn.
It’s also important for him and his wife to be buried close to home. And that’s an issue, because right now the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery on the former Fort Ord can only accommodate cremated remains in niches. And some veterans like Guinn want full in-ground burials.
Rich Garza is with the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Foundation, which raises money for the state run cemetery. He sits in a conference room at the Veteran’s Transition Center among pictures of fighter jets and carved wooden Eagles. He says a lot of people who call want an in-ground burial for religious reasons.
“There is the Jewish population that feels very strongly. There are Muslim veterans. There are Orthodox Christian veterans, Eastern Orthodox and still some conservative Catholics who just don’t not want to be cremated,” says Garza.
They may soon get their wish. The recently passed state budget includes $1.5-million for the cemetery. That plus local donations opens the door for three-million in federal dollars. If all the money comes through, it will be enough to complete the next phase in the cemetery which will include burial plots.
“It makes it a full service cemetery. And many respects provides the momentum for the completion,” says Garza.
If everything falls into place, Gaza says this new part of the cemetery could be open within the next five years.
On a sunny afternoon Candace Ingram stands near the cremation niches at the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery. She also works for the foundation. In the distance is an undeveloped area of Coastal Oaks and tall grass. She says the burial plots will be designed honor that environment.
“To the extent possible there will be preservation of the trees that you see here. There will be replanting of drought tolerant plants that as there are right now out here," says Ingram.
No acres of grass, no rows of white crosses.
“This is not Arlington. This is not going to be a grassy area. This is going to be more in-line with the environment that we all know and the natural environment right here,” says Ingram.
A place veteran Cliff Guinn can see as his final resting place.
“The sound of the taps. The folding of the flag. The patriotism involved because the Army is not for yourself. The army is for your team, and that’s why I want to be buried with my teammates, my brothers,” says Guinn.
By the time all of the phases are complete, there will be room for more than 70,000 veterans and their spouses.