For weeks my iPhone calendar has had a reminder on it that on Saturday, December 15, I am to embark on an early morning two-hour drive with a dear friend to Canton, GA, in order to be at the Georgia National Cemetery by 10:00 AM with thousands of other pilgrims. Deb and I are going there in order to place wreaths on the graves of our fathers who served this wonderful country so bravely as young men while members of the U.S. military.
Deb’s dad was an Army lifer, serving in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam and my dad was a WWII Navy veteran who enlisted as a college junior after Pearl Harbor.
In last week’s MMC there was a Spotlight column by Bill Dudley, highlighting the Wreaths Across America organization and its affiliation with Georgia Memorial Cemetery in Milledgeville. I thank Mr. Dudley profusely for bringing this wonderful organization and the special day to the forefront and I want to add more information about all the veteran’s cemeteries in Georgia that are honored by WAA. The timing of the author’s article was perfect as the nation honored the passing of a war hero and former president last week.
If you want a thorough education about the Wreaths Across America organization, their volunteers, your much-needed donations and the special day, simply go to your computer and look up www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. Even though my article is primarily about the Veteran’s Cemeteries in Georgia I have emphasized this coming Saturday, December 15th first, because if you miss the event this year, you’ll have to wait twelve months for the next opportunity to participate and be touched by this two-decade long tradition of honoring our vets from every branch of the military.
There are seven cemeteries in Georgia that are beneficiaries of the Wreaths Across America program, seven out of over 1,400 cemeteries nationwide and abroad. More than 69,000 veterans from the Civil War to the present are interred in these Georgia cemeteries with spaces for tens of thousands more. The largest of these cemeteries is Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, Ga on 775 acres of rolling hills and wooded slopes. According to its website, “the property on which the cemetery rests was donated by Scott Hudgens, the late Atlanta World War II veteran, land developer and philanthropist. The site lies midway between Cartersville and Canton, near the Etowah River, offering views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Allatoona.” I want you to know that a current Morgan County resident was instrumental in the establishment of this cemetery but I will let you figure out who it is because I don’t have permission to reveal the details. Understand that while there are presently seven that are recognized there are hundreds more Georgia cemeteries where veterans are honorably buried.
The most infamous of the seven is Andersonville, an extension of the adjacent Camp Sumter military prison established by the Confederacy less than a year and a half before the end of the Civil War. Although designed to accommodate 10,000 Union prisoners, it is known to have housed up to 30,000 at once, in squalid conditions beyond your imagination, which lead to the deaths of at least 13,000. Thus, the beginning of the Andersonville Cemetery. I have visited this historic site and for the only time in my life felt that there were souls desperately reaching out to me for comfort and freedom. Andersonville is the only National Cemetery operated by the National Park Service that is still accepting veterans and their spouses for burial. In spite of the uneasy feelings that haunted me while I was there, I still consider the perfectly aligned rows of white memorials to be as beautiful and impressive as those in Arlington.
Andersonville National Cemetery
Currently 30,000 veterans are buried here.
496 Cemetery Road, Andersonville, GA 31711 Operated by the U.S. National Park Service
The smallest of these seven cemeteries is in Carroll County and was established to bestow honor on any fallen veterans who, at some point in their lives lived or worked in Carroll County. While the smallest, it offers the most to see and explore. The Park Association recognizes, through the use of Memorial Walls of Honor, women veterans, those killed in action, P.O.W/M.I.A., Park contributors, the six branches of the military and more. There are 24 walls in total along with sculptures, a flag burn pit, fountains and benches. The Memorial Park is sponsored and managed by volunteers.
Carroll County Veterans Memorial Park
Currently 50 veterans are buried here.
1050 Newman Road, Carrollton, GA 30116
Operated by Carroll County Veterans Memorial Park Association. Established 1999
In the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, overlooks Etowah Indian Burial Mounds. Only 330 of the 775 acres are suitable for use but when completed, nearly 70,000 soldiers, spouses and family members will rest in peace here. This is an explanation of who may be interred in any National Veterans Cemetery directly from the VA website. “Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
A Veteran’s spouse, widow or widower, minor dependent children, and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities may also be eligible for burial. Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the Veteran. Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty, or were eligible for retired pay, may also be eligible for burial.”
Georgia National CemeteryCurrently 12,600 veterans are buried here.
1080 Veterans Cemetery Road, Canton, GA 30114
Operated by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Established 2006
Adjacent to south Georgia’s Fort Stewart is the city of Glennville and the site of our state’s newest Veteran’s cemetery. The grounds will eventually be the final resting place for 21,000 patriots. As at the other cemeteries, you will see row upon row of perfectly aligned granite monuments, each telling you the story of one of America’s finest. While there, or at any Veteran’s cemetery, look for the coins that have been placed on top of many of the markers. It is said that a penny indicates that somebody stopped and visited the grace. A nickel is supposed to mean that the visitor and the soldier trained together. A dime means that they served together and a quarter means that the two were together when the soldier was mortally injured. The cemeteries gather the coins from time to time and use them towards maintenance of the grounds.
Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Currently 1,150 veterans are buried here.
8819 US Highway 301
Glennville, GA 30427
Operated by the Georgia Department of Veteran’s Services. Established 2007
In 2001, the Georgia Forestry Commission donated 142 acres for the creation of this veteran’s cemetery just south of Milledgeville. The plans for this spot, the closest to Morgan County, are to be the final resting grounds for 100,000 veterans and their spouses.
Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Currently 2,800 veterans are buried here.
2617 Vinson Highway, Milledgeville, GA 31061
Operated by the Georgia Department of Veteran’s Services. Established 2001
Though I’ve lived in Georgia for over 40 years, as a born and raised Yankee, I find the history of this cemetery to be most interesting. Its story began with the urgent need to bury 10,000 Union troops following Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. The donor of the property, a Union sympathizer, had intended for Union and Confederate soldiers to be buried side-by-side as a symbol of potential harmony but neither faction would agree to this. A variation of this plan was eventually developed and to this day there are segregated Confederate and Union sections in Marietta. And many years ago, to further demonstrate the quest for permanent separation of the Civil War troops, all know Union soldiers were removed from Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery and moved to Marietta, leaving only a Confederate section in Atlanta that is honored to this day with wreaths provided by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Marietta National Cemetery
18,839 veterans buried here and cemetery is full.
500 Washington Avenue, Marietta, GA 30060
Operated by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Established 1866
This former site of a Civil War defensive Confederate lookout was redeveloped by retired soldiers and prominent Macon area residents shortly after the war. It is said that this defensive system built by the southern troops was one of the reasons that Sherman’s troops bypassed the Macon area, for the most part. Those Union soldiers who are interred here are certainly in the minority but are still remembered every year by Wreaths Across America. This cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is well documented as part of Georgia’s March to the Sea portion of the Civil War Trail.
Currently 4,000 veterans are buried here.
66 Madison Street, Macon, GA 31201
Operated by Riverside Cemetery & Conservancy Established 1887
I’ve given you these addresses in case you’d like to attend one of the wreath-laying ceremonies with family and friends, especially young children who would learn firsthand about America’s heroes and how they are honored. If you are part of an organization that would like to volunteer in the future for the annual tradition, I’m sure your service would be appreciated. Contact Wreaths Across America’s website or one of these Georgia cemeteries.
I also tell you about the cemeteries because every veteran who would like to be buried in one should have the opportunity. Mom and dad’s burial at Georgia National in Canton was a wonderful experience. The veteran and spouse are situated side-by-side with the veteran’s name, military branch, rank and time of service along with the normal DOB and DOD engraved on the granite monument.
If desired, you may add a verse of inspiration and a symbol of the veteran’s preferred religion. The veteran’s information is engraved on the front of the monument while the spouse’s information is on the back. The burial service, the monument and all future maintenance is free of charge, a small expense to the government for the service received from these veterans. Search https://www.cem.va.gov/burial_benefits/ for specifics about Veteran interment.
In 1862 President Lincoln signed legislation recognizing the need for National Cemeteries for soldiers who died during or after service to the United States of America. Now that you understand the importance and history of these cemeteries please make plans to visit one of these one either during the wreath laying on December 15th or shortly after.
You will be so impressed. Several times throughout the year various organizations place American flags at each marker also. A truly impressive sight!