Home Of The Brave
● By Sandie Tillery
Northern California Veterans Cemetery
The carillon rings out the hour with clear precision, followed by “America,” an anthem to the freedom so valiantly preserved by the soldiers interred at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery. On an isolated knoll in the foothills southeast of the Trinity Alps with mountains rising in the distance on three sides in tribute, the cemetery is more than a resting place for veterans; it is a memorial shrine for people to remember, meditate and celebrate lives lived and lost for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Dedicated on November 11, 2005, the cemetery on Gas Point Road in Igo is the only state-owned and operated veterans’ cemetery in California. It was funded by a construction grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is maintained by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. The land was donated by Shasta County and the project succeeded–thanks to the devoted effort of countless contributors.
Administrator Stephen Jorgensen describes the cemetery as a “new house with a brand new yard,” and it is still in progress. “We are creating a vision of how we want it to look long-term,” Jorgensen says. With the Combat Wounded Veterans Memorial at the entrance, the Carillon Tower donated by the AmVets standing sentry and two more memorials planned by other veterans groups, the Memorial Walk represents the essence of the vision.
Honorably discharged veterans from 18 Northern California counties are eligible for interment, along with spouses and dependents. Since the first interment on December 21, 2005, more than 900 people have been buried at the cemetery. Jorgensen says he hopes this will be the cemetery of choice for North State veterans. With 7,323 burial plots and 1,200 columbarium niches available, the cemetery is not expected to reach its capacity until well after the year 2050. The National Guard and representatives of all military branches provide funeral honors through the Department of Defense program, “Honoring Those Who Served.”
The Northern California Veterans Cemetery Support Committee presents Veterans Day and Memorial Day programs, and the cemetery is available for public use. “We want to have other programs of honor, with patriotic themes,” Jorgensen says. Board members and members-at-large facilitate, plan and approve activities to ensure they meet the cemetery’s strict guidelines.
May is a perfect time to visit the cemetery. A special program to commemorate Armed Forces Day is planned for 10:30 am May 17. A special Memorial Day program is set for 6 pm Monday, May 26. Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa is slated as keynote speaker with comments from Veterans Speaker Lt. Col. Carl Bott, Retired, and special remarks given by John King, Deputy Secretary for Veterans Services for the California Department of Veterans Affairs. The Shasta High School band will perform patriotic numbers and a Native American Color Guard will present the flags.
Precise rows of granite burial markers elicit a sense of reverence as do the walls of columbarium niches. On a recent walk through the grounds, tears flowed as visitors read the epitaphs, the measured words of love engraved below the names.