National veterans cemetery coming to Idaho's Magic Valley
HANSEN, Idaho — As caretaker of the combined Magic Valley Veterans Cemetery and Rock Creek Cemetery south of town, Wayne Goetz visits childhood friend Bob Dalton’s grave often.
“We both graduated from Kimberly High School,” Goetz said, standing over Dalton’s grave Thursday. “I went into the Navy, and Bob went into the Air Force. I got out in four years, and he stayed in for 20.”
Dalton died a year ago and was buried among 120 other veterans and many early settlers, such as Herman Stricker and John Hansen.
Folks “like to be buried here,” said Goetz’s wife, Sylvia. “It’s close to home, and there’s a nice view of the mountains.”
Soon, another burial option will be available to veterans in the Magic Valley.
Idaho has one State Veterans Cemetery, in Boise, and a few privately operated veterans cemeteries.
That’s a concern for many.
“No matter where you live in the state, there is travel involved,” said state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. “My husband is a veteran, and I wouldn’t want him buried in Boise.”
But when the VA asked Bell for help finding ground for a new national cemetery in the Magic Valley, she was surprised.
“It was not something I had thought about,” Bell said.
Mike Parke, owner of Parke’s Magic Valley Funeral Home, said he would welcome a national cemetery in the valley.
“For folks to drive 120 miles to bury a loved one, or to go visit a grave, is too far,” Parke said.
Nationally, “we are losing 1,000 veterans a day on average,” he added.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a plan to build so-called National Veterans Burial Grounds in rural areas.
In November, VA scouts came to the Magic Valley to find suitable land, said Glenn Madderom, chief of cemetery development for the VA’s National Cemetery Administration.
“Fourteen-thousand veterans live within a 75-mile radius of Twin Falls,” Madderom said in a telephone interview from his office in Indianapolis. A local national cemetery would “provide them with a burial option.”
One location the VA considered was the combined Magic Valley Veterans Cemetery and Rock Creek Cemetery, both of which are owned by the Twin Falls Veterans Health Commission, said Goetz.
Goetz, Magic Valley Honor Guard leader, said he was told the cemetery probably would be ineligible.
“They are looking for 3 to 5 acres of bare land,” he said.
“Too many unmarked graves here,” Sylvia Goetz said, referring to numerous pioneer graves.
Twin Falls County owns land near the airport south of Twin Falls, said Commissioner Leon Mills. The commissioners offered the land to the VA for the cemetery.
Madderom said the VA now is evaluating sites in the Magic Valley, but he couldn’t say where or how many.
But Bell said she heard the VA hoped to find a site in Twin Falls, Jerome or Cassia counties.
Once the site is chosen and the land purchased, the new cemetery could be ready to go in two years, Madderom said.
“This is something we need,” Parke said. “These veterans were promised that they would be buried at no cost. They earned that when they put their lives on the line.”