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Shaw: North Dakota National Cemetery badly needs upgrades

"The Cass County Commission should quickly get on board to approve this vital project," writes InForum columnist Jim Shaw. "It’s a no-brainer."

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw
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It’s terrific that North Dakota’s first national cemetery opened in rural Harwood in 2018. However, upgrades are badly needed. There needs to be a parking lot and a building with bathrooms, a chapel and a family gathering area.

“There’s no structure at the cemetery. No restrooms. No place to meet,” said Jason Hicks, commander of the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard. “There’s nothing out there. So many families come from a distance, and there’s no place to go before or after. We want to have this for the families, the honor guard and everyone in attendance.”

Between having up to five funerals a day for the honor guard to participate in while dealing with the brutal weather, conditions can be very difficult at the cemetery.

“For our honor guard it gets very taxing,” Hicks told me. “There’s nothing to get out of the elements. Families are also disappointed. It’s a considerable problem. We’re missing the human aspect.”

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Eleanor Bergene, left, receives a folded American flag following the burial of her husband Connolly Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, at the North Dakota National Cemetery in Harwood. Connolly was a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Contributed / Jason Hicks

Fortunately, the honor guard has a great plan. It is raising money for a building and parking. They also want to create a place for sacred burial rituals of Native American veterans. Honor guard members need between $1.5 million to $2.5 million. So far, they have raised about $425,000. The Fargo Memorial Honor Guard should be commended for its efforts. What the honor guard wants to do would make a huge difference for anyone dealing with the cemetery.

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“We are very confident we can raise the money,” Hicks said. “The more people who hear about it, the more they want to get on board. Many people are surprised that these necessities aren’t in place now.”

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A rendering showcases a proposed Native American veterans area at the North Dakota National Cemetery in Harwood.
Contributed / Jason Hicks

Hicks says the owner of the land, Jake Gust, will sell it to them to construct the building and parking lot under one condition. He wants a government entity to be considered the new owner of the land. That entity would be Cass County. So, the honor guard would lease the land from Cass County for a nominal fee, such as $1 a year.

Meantime, the honor guard would run and manage the building without government oversight. The county has nothing to lose. It should be emphasized that none of this would cost taxpayers any money.

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InForum columnist Jim Shaw as well as Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and North Dakota Rep. Austen Schauer visit with local veterans at the Patriot's Day Ceremony at the Fargo Air Museum.
Contributed / Jim Shaw

Thus, the Cass County Commission should quickly get on board to approve this vital project. It’s a no-brainer.

“This is the Arlington National Cemetery of North Dakota,” Hicks said. “We’re just looking to improve what’s out there. We need to make things better for families going through such a difficult time and experience. We want to make it a more positive experience.”

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InForum columnist Jim Shaw, left, discusses Patriot's Day during a celebration at the Fargo Theatre alongside North Dakota Rep. Austen Schauer, NDSU History Professor Don Johnson, North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, and FM Legion Riders Director Tom Krabbenhoft.
Contributed / Jim Shaw

Thanks to everyone who participated in our wonderful first Patriot’s Day celebration in North Dakota. The United Patriotic Bodies put on a meaningful and touching ceremony at the Fargo Air Museum. At the Fargo Theatre, we had an entertaining film about the Revolutionary War followed by a passionate and insightful discussion about the war and holiday.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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Opinion by Jim Shaw
InForum columnist Jim Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
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