This Memorial Day we again will be paying homage to those who have passed on before us, especially military veterans who gave of themselves to help maintain our freedom.
For Brown County veterans, there is a special plot of ground for their final resting place in the New Ulm Cemetery called Soldiers' Rest. (There are special spots for veterans in the Sleepy Eye and Springfield cemeteries, but it's not called Soldiers' Rest.)
What is unique about Soldiers' Rest is that the veteran's final resting place is paid for by Brown County.
Photos by Ron Larsen
Brown County’s Veteran’s Service Officer, Greg Peterson, checks one of the several tablets that help visitors find certain grave sites in the Soldiers’ Rest in the New Ulm Cemetery.
Henry Meier, a World War I veteran, was the first veteran to be buried in Soldiers’ Rest on October 14, 1946. Born in Germany, Meier’s grave, given the number one, is right next to the Doughboy Statue.
The Rest’s lower level is where most of the veterans who were cremated reside. Since there is no body, the headstones are closer together and closer to the walk-way.
"We think that we're the only county in the nation that has this. I've even spoken to other county veterans service officers. They've never heard of this before, and I can see where they wouldn't because it's just merely a law that says counties may ... and nobody took the time 60 years ago [to learn about it] [so] nobody knows about it now," said Greg Peterson, Brown County's veterans service officer.
It's all based upon a state law that was originally written in 1917 which allowed counties to purchase graves for the burial of soldiers and their spouses.
"It's actually called the Soldiers' Rest law. I presume, of course, it was written [in] preparation for what was going on with World War I. It has changed slightly throughout the years. The majority of the changes had to deal with the amount of money that a county could spend in one year," Peterson explained.
"It started out $1,000 was the most that a county could appropriate for that [purpose.] So, it comes out of taxpayers' dollars."
There were a few increases over the years until it reached $3,500 in about 1984, Peterson said.
"Then, in 2006, I believe, I worked with [state Sen.] Denny Frederickson and [former state Rep.] Brad Finstad to get that number elevated because as time has progressed, cemetery plots have become more and more expensive, and if limited to spending $3,500, we could just buy fewer and fewer plots every year," Peterson said.
"Now, there is no more cap on how much you can spend. The past couple years we've been budgeting $6,000 which buys us 10 graves in New Ulm, but with the budget constraints by the governor, we have to look at that for next year. So, that's why I already know what's out there, and then there are still graves out there that are reserved for the county to purchase. We basically make that purchase once a year so ... ," he explained.
And, doing that "inventory" check turned out to be a bigger job than he expected because records were not kept as well for the Sleepy Eye and Springfield veterans' burials as for New Ulm Cemetery's Soldiers' Rest, he said.
However, an inventory was necessary so county officials could tell where they're at now and what future needs will be, and the rules and regulations governing Soldiers' Rest cemeteries also needed updating to remove outdated practices, Peterson said.
"The original set of rules say that you're supposed to apply with the county commission where you last resided. Now, I interpret that to mean where you would have last resided in Brown County before you died, but the funding is strictly coming from the taxpayers of Brown County.
"So, we worked a long time on residency eligibility. The applicant must be a Brown County resident unless, due to health reasons you're forced into, for example, a nursing home in Winthrop or any other medical facility that causes you to stay long-term elsewhere," Peterson explained.
The rules also address general eligibility. Persons who are not eligible include those who may have been discharged "under dishonorable conditions or whose character of service results in a bar to veterans benefits," whose only service was active duty for training or inactive duty training, a former spouse whose marriage to that veteran has been terminated by annulment or divorce; any eligible veteran or spouse found guilty of a federal or state capital crime and is sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole, and any eligible veteran convicted of subversive activities after September 1, 1959. However, "eligibility will be reinstated if the President of the United States grants a pardon."
"We did a new pre-registration application, and we've had 50 people or so in the New Ulm area already come in and sign up. It's not an application that guarantees them a plot, but what it does is it gets all of the pertinent information down on paper and lets us keep a file. We ask if they want full burial or cremations," Peterson explained.
(However, nothing prevents families of the deceased veteran requesting burial in Soldiers' Rest at the time of the veteran's death.)
"It gives me an idea [of what people want]. There's a whole lot more people wanting cremations than, I guess, I would have thought so it gives us a planning tool for that."