JONESBORO — Maine’s second national cemetery is currently under construction in Washington County.
The cemetery, which has yet to be named, will be located on a 6.22-acre tract donated in September 2017 by Worcester Holdings Inc., said Les’ Melnyk, chief of public affairs and outreach for the National Cemetery Administration, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Morrill Worcester, owner and founder of Worcester Holdings and Worcester Wreath Co., said he is honored the new cemetery will be located adjacent to the wreath company’s working balsam farm, where his company makes wreaths for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit that places wreaths on veteran’s graves.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said.
Valiant Construction LLC of Louisville, Ky., began work on the $3.8-million project this past spring, with completion anticipated this coming spring, said Melnyk. The completed cemetery will provide room for nearly 8,000 interments, including more than 1,400 veterans and their family members.
Maine currently has only one national cemetery, Togus National Cemetery in Chelsea. It is currently closed to new burials, though interments may still take place if a veteran, spouse or eligible family member is already buried there, Melnyk said.
Maine also has three state veterans cemeteries, two of which are located in Augusta. The third is located in southern Maine. The new cemetery will provide an option for veterans who don’t have convenient access to any of those cemeteries, he said.
“To date, more than 92 percent of the nation’s veterans live within 75 miles of a federal, state, territorial or tribal veterans cemetery, and the VA is building new cemeteries like the one in Washington County in an attempt to raise that percentage to 95 percent,” Melnyk said.
The location was selected as a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Rural Initiative program, which seeks to establish a national cemetery presence in areas where the veteran population is less than 25,000 within a 75-mile service area. Based on an analysis of the veteran population in Maine, the VA determined Washington, Penobscot and Hancock counties would be best served by a cemetery in the Machias area, Melnyk said.
Department of Veterans Affairs representatives began looking for a location in Washington County in 2015, Worcester said.
“Realizing that our town is home to Wreaths Across America, they thought it would make a special place for the cemetery,” he said. “At that point, they were looking to purchase land. When I learned about what they wanted to do, I called them up and told them I wanted to donate land for the cemetery.”
VA representatives selected the specific site based on factors such as how far it is from the road, how high the land is and the quality of the groundwater.
“Once all the criteria were met, they made the final decision,” said Worcester. “It was a great day.”
The cemetery will be located adjacent to the nondenominational Balsam Valley Chapel, which was built in 2016. But Worcester said the chapel is there because of the cemetery, rather than the other way around.
“We realized that families would now need a place to hold military funerals,” he said. “So, we decided to build the chapel.”
Worcester said the addition of the cemetery adds to what he described as a “sacred destination of remembrance for veterans, patriots and their families.”
Once built, the cemetery will be maintained by a federal employee, said Melnyk. The graves at the new cemetery will be adorned with Wreaths Across America wreaths, Worcester said.
The reasons veterans choose to be buried in a national cemetery are varied, said Melnyk. They include being buried with fellow veterans, the beauty of the location and cost.
“The VA provides a headstone or marker, burial plot, opening and closing of the grave, and perpetual care of the gravesite for our veterans, their spouses and eligible children at no charge,” Melnyk said. “These costs can be considerable in a private cemetery.”
There are currently 136 national cemeteries operated by the VA, as well as 33 soldiers lots and monument sites. In addition, the military services and the Department of the Interior operate several national cemeteries in the United States. The American Battle Monuments Commission operates national cemeteries located overseas, he said.
Worcester said having a national cemetery in Washington County will mean a lot to area veterans and their families.
“It’s quite special,” he said. “I believe having a place that is close to home where families from this part of the state can visit and honor their loved ones is important.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. The cemetery is being built in Jonesboro.