A 100-acre site just off Interstate-80 near Van Meter will be developed into an “Iowa Veterans Cemetery.” Governor Tom Vilsack says it will be a “sacred place” to honor the state’s veterans. “This particular project is a permanent, lasting, visible indication of support…and the great thing about this is that there are going to be millions of cars and trucks and people drive by this site every year, millions, from all over the country,” Vilsack says.
(Photo above shows Vilsack making the cemetery announcement with Iowa veterans)
Bill Knapp, a prominent Des Moines developer, donated 76 of the 100 acres. The rest was donated by another area developer, Ronald Kenyon. Knapp has donated millions to Iowa Democrats and area causes — a building on the state fairgrounds now bears his name — but Knapp says this donation is different.
“Being a World War II veteran, I have a lot of compassion for veterans and people (who) defend our country,” Knapp says. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that I feel better about than being able to give this land.” Knapp says he hopes his donation will inspire others. “To bring forward what people do, it’s not so much to get credit for doing it, but to set an example for other people to do the same,” Knapp says. “We live in a great state and a great country and those of us (who) are successful have a great obligation to put something back.”
Ronald Kenyon, the other land donor, is not a veteran, but his wife’s brother died in World War II — on D-Day. “It was the least that we could do to honor the brave men and women not only of the past but of the future and what they’re doing for this great country of ours,” Kenyon says. “As long as we could in some small way contribute to this, we were happy to do it…Too many people forget what these great veterans have done and what they are doing today. I don’t think that we can do enough for ’em.”
Vilsack praised the two families for donating the burial ground for veterans. “A place where families will be able to connect, grieve, communicate, reflect on the sacrifice and the lives of loved ones,” the governor says. Iowa is one of 13 states which do not have a veterans cemetery.
Planners say ground should be broken in 2006 for the Iowa Veterans Cemetery and the first burial should happen in the fall of 2007. The governor describes the land as the fitting final resting place for Iowa veterans.
“One hundred acres with extraordinary access, highly visible, but a noble and serene spot,” Vilsack says. Officials estimate at least 60-thousand veterans can be buried on the 100-acre site. The federal government will reimburse the state for developing the site. The state will pay for regular upkeep, like mowing and clearing snow.