Our vital Chattanooga National Cemetery

Our vital Chattanooga National Cemetery

May 25th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Ralph Everett, a caretaker with the Chattanooga National Cemetery, mows a section of the 120-acre grounds Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by Staff Report /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and with plentiful points of historical interest.

But arguably no site in the city more thoroughly fuses those elements than Chattanooga National Cemetery.

The cemetery, dating to the War Between the States, embodies solemn yet simple graves; large, stately trees; memorials and monuments; rolling, grassy hills; and other important features. The effect, even on those who may not be related to any of the tens of thousands of veterans buried there, is profound.

That makes it all the more gratifying that questions about whether the cemetery will run out of space appear to have been resolved at least for several more decades.

You may recall that the cemetery once was scheduled for closing in 2015.

But a multimillion-dollar expansion being completed this year means that the cemetery's life will endure at least until 2046. And there are worthwhile discussions under way to add space that will extend the life of the cemetery even beyond that time.

In addition to thousands of graves being added near Holtzclaw and Bailey avenues, a wall for the remains of those who have been cremated will be open for services as soon as August, Cemetery Director Deborah Kendrick told the Times Free Press. The wall will have more than 1,600 niches.

Of longer-term interest, area veterans and public officials are seeking to add potentially a couple dozen more acres to the cemetery. Nearby parcels of land that are seized for delinquent taxes, for instance, could be used to expand the site, and there are discussions of adding land from an adjacent railroad right-of-way.

It is excellent news that the cemetery will remain open for at least 34 more years -- and it is even better news that its life could well be extended far beyond that time. It is a key part of the city's history, and it provides area residents and visitors a good reason to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many who served in the military.

The public and private groups and individuals who have been vigilant in seeking to maintain the vital purpose of the cemetery deserve praise for their valuable and tireless work over a long period of years.