A $6.8 million federal grant was awarded for building the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr announced Monday.
Groundbreaking on a cemetery for fallen soldiers and veterans will begin next spring, Farr said.
“For two decades, we have worked with the veterans' community to build a cemetery that honors not just their service, but also honors the legacy of Fort Ord," Farr said. “Today, we can finally say we are ready to begin construction of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery. This final resting place will be a fitting tribute to those who bravely wore our nation's uniform.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to give $6.8 million was cheered by veterans and their families who, for more than 20 years, have pushed for a cemetery to be built.
Farr, along with State Sen. Bill Monning and CalVet officials, held a press conference Monday at the Veterans Transition Center in Marina to announce the huge step forward.
Monning said, "There have been disappointments, moving goal posts, there have been let downs, but the persistence has never stopped."
Fort Ord was the largest training base in the western United States and was the major staging ground for operations in the Pacific. Many World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans trained at the Army base.
Talk of creating a veterans cemetery on the former Fort Ord started in 1993, around the same time it was decided that the base would be closed.
“The veteran population is huge, the memories are large ,and the ties are strong. So it’s absolutely appropriate to have a cemetery,” said Terry Bear, Executive Director of the Veterans Transition Center.
Veteran Jack Stewart said, "It's so enlightening to see this thing come about. It's fantastic. Now I can rest."
The cemetery site on Fort Ord encompasses rolling hills with the natural beauty of the Monterey Bay as a backdrop.
Families of veterans who passed away years ago have been holding out hope and waiting, including former Monterey County supervisor Edith Johnson, whose husband died eights years ago.
"I’m going to be on the list to get him buried as soon as possible, going to have the family out and have big ceremony and everything else because that’s the importance," Johnson said.
Construction of the cemetery's first phase is expected to be completed in 2016.
The $6.8 million will be used to reimburse all constructions costs associated with building the first phase of the cemetery. Local veterans raised nearly $600,000 of necessary funds. When combined with $1 million in state funds secured by Monning, and an additional $1 million provided by California Speaker of the Assembly John Perez , the first phase of the project is completely funded. The state is eligible for additional grants to pay for the other phases of the project.