Columbarium coming to North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan, state leaders push for change in burial eligibility

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The North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan recently reached its 10,000th interment, however, it is looking to expand in a number of ways.

Several leaders, including Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, were at the cemetery Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Cremation has been rising in popularity in recent years — now more popular than traditional burials as of 2015, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association.

In order to address this trend, the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery applied for a Veterans Affairs grant and received approval for approximately $1.4 million to build a columbarium.

“A columbarium is the above-ground niches that cremains can go in and we currently do not offer that as an option for burial here,” said Director Pamela Helbling-Schafer.

The construction of the columbarium will take place in two phases, with the first holding 1,440 niches and the second phase providing over 2,240 niches.

It is estimated that this will hold approximately 15 to 20 years of capacity.

State and National Guard leaders toured the cemetery and discussed changes about who is eligible to be laid to rest at the cemetery.

“We did discuss the Burial Equity Act for guard and reserves during their visit, and basically that is to allow for National Guard and reservists who do not have active duty time other than for training to be interred in all state and tribal veteran’s cemeteries as well,” said Helbling-Schafer.

Armstrong says those members of the guard and reserve component sign the same blank check to their country as their active counterparts, and still answer the call of duty on the homefront.

“Our relationship with the National Guard in North Dakota is pretty significant from floods to blizzards to COVID testing. Any major event, [like the] fires in Medora,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong says he was in Grand Forks in 1997 for the flood and praised the work of the guardsmen assisting with disaster relief.

The call of duty doesn’t always come from overseas, and it’s not always within the Peace Garden State that you will find the North Dakota National Guard.

“We got a unit at the southern border right now. I mean, the North Dakota National Guard goes where they are needed and they do an exceptionally great job,” said Armstrong.

All of this to say, they believe that work the guard and reserve components put in for their country warrants their final resting place being among their fellow veterans.

Guardsmen and reservists who had active duty time on their record are eligible to be buried in a state veterans cemetery.

They account for just 3 percent of the total burials at the Veterans Cemetery in Mandan.

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