Unity and respect are themes for State Veterans Cemetery dedication near Redwood Falls

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Oct. 15—REDWOOD FALLS — Unity and paying military veterans the respect they deserve were the themes Wednesday as Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar led a groundbreaking ceremony for the newest State Veterans Cemetery.

Work will now get underway to develop 21.7 acres as part of the first of 10 phases to eventually complete an 81-acre cemetery at the site just east of Redwood Falls. It will be the fourth state veterans cemetery and serve more than 20,000 veterans.

The state Legislature approved $4.5 million for the project this year after the National Cemetery Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs committed $11.2 million in 2020. Redwood County purchased the land for the cemetery and had worked since 2009 to obtain state and federal funding.

Powerful, blustery winds whipped flags held tightly by honor guard members as a large crowd, many of them veterans from around the region, gathered under a tent erected for the event.

Pointing out the divisions that are all too common today, Gov. Walz told the audience: "What you see is an absolutely unified front around one of the core values of our nation, and that is the care of those willing to serve."

The governor, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, also spoke of the respect shown to veterans by the care provided at the state's veterans cemeteries.

"Because veterans stick up for one another," Walz said. "Veterans stand side-by-side. All the differences we see, especially when you enter this special place, all those differences are gone. We lie in that perfect democracy, where we're sisters and brothers in service to just this nation."

Sen. Klobuchar joined Walz in emphasizing that cemeteries serve the important role of showing respect to veterans for their service. She noted that President Abraham Lincoln spoke to its importance on the Gettysburg Battlefield, where the 1st Minnesota held the line and saved the battle for the Union at great cost in lives.

"It is the same idea, that we respect our veterans," Klobuchar said. "We show them when they come home, not with tomatoes like what happened after the Vietnam War. We show it to their families by giving them a beautiful and dignified place to rest. That's what this place is."

Klobuchar said the location of this cemetery in Redwood Falls is important. Rural Minnesota has a higher proportion of its population serving their country, and it's important that families are near their loved ones.

Redwood Falls was considered to be a "sweet spot" in terms of serving the veteran population in western Minnesota, according to Larry Herke, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Otherwise, the nearest national veterans cemeteries are located 100 miles away, at Fort Snelling and a new cemetery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Minnesota has now served more than 10,000 veterans in its three state cemeteries located in Little Falls, Preston and Duluth, according to Herke.

State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, called it a "very important day for rural Minnesota." He said there were more than 70,000 veterans living within 75 miles of the new cemetery site.

Along with a traditional groundbreaking ceremony with shovels, the dedication included a rifle salute and playing of taps, and a Dakota prayer offered by an elder of the Lower Sioux Community.

Lydia Conito, who is also a U.S. Navy veteran, sang a Dakota prayer and sprinkled four traditional medicines — sage, sweetgrass, tobacco grown on the Lower Sioux reservation, and flat cedar — on the grounds of the new cemetery.

Conito served as a hospital corpsman from 1958 to 1960. She was motivated by her family's tradition of service. Her uncle, Norman Dow, was awarded the Purple Heart after giving his life on Normandy Beach in the D-Day Invasion.

She reminded those who gathered that the new cemetery is on land ceded to the U.S. government by the Dakota people. It is also located near the agency site where the War of 1862 began when the treaty was not upheld, she told the audience.

"This is the land that you are standing on," said Conito, adding: "I am so happy. It seems, it feels like to me that the circle is coming close to an end. That now our veterans will have a safe place to be. And when the day that they meet their Creator, they will all be so helpful and happy. They will meet all of their relatives right here on this land."

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