04/10/13 — Resting place for heroes

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Resting place for heroes

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 10, 2013 1:46 PM

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Andy Anderson stands in front of the nearly 90-acre parcel off Longs Plant Farm Road east of Goldsboro that supporters hope will become a new state veterans cemetery. The project, nearly six years in the works, is nearing reality -- pending the state General Assembly authorizing payment of a $600,000 loan that will be repaid by the federal government once the $6 million project is complete.

Supporters of a proposed new veterans cemetery in Goldsboro are hopeful that after nearly six years worth of work, their efforts will soon pay off.

Andy Anderson, who has been pushing the project from the start, explained that the process began with two goals in mind -- fulfill a need for veterans and their families while also helping to protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"I saw a need for a new veterans cemetery," he said. "The national cemetery in Wilmington is full. The one at New Bern is almost full, and the one in Jacksonville is getting full."

Add to that, the Air Force veteran said, the constant need in Wayne County to protect the base against encroachment, and when a plot of already cleared land on Longs Plant Farm Road east of Goldsboro came to his attention, he decided to pursue it.

"It's not directly under the flight path, but it's close," he said. "You don't really want homes in that area."

So he began to talk to veterans and business owners and others, building support for the idea. He also worked with county commissioners, County Manager Lee Smith, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee member and current chairman Jimmie Edmundson and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones.

Eventually, a group of business owners donated 35 acres of land to the county, while the county was able to secure an option on another 53 acres from a family that agreed to sell it at "a good price" -- as long as it was all used for a veterans cemetery.

And so with nearly 90 acres in hand, Anderson then pitched the idea to the federal Veterans Administration, which gave its blessing to the project, which allows veterans to be buried for free and their spouses to be buried with them.

"They said this is a good presentation and that we can support this," he said.

If approved, it would be a state veterans cemetery -- there are not enough people living in a 100-mile radius to support national status -- but, Anderson said, there is little difference between the two.

"It's really the same thing. A national cemetery is completely run by the feds. A state cemetery, the state runs it, but the feds fund it," he said.

However, he said, at some point after that, between working with state and federal officials, the ball was dropped and the project stopped receiving the attention it needed -- until Jones got involved again.

Now, Anderson said, the next step is for the state Legislature to approve a $600,000 loan to the federal government -- 10 percent of the expected $6 million project cost, a sort of show of good faith -- to pay for the up front costs to design and engineer the site.

The only concern at this point is the state's budget situation, but, he said, Pate has assured him that this project is likely to be approved and that it will have the support of the full Wayne County delegation.

"We're willing to fight for that," Pate said.

Besides, Anderson noted, the only funds required are a loan that will be repaid once the project is complete, the federal government foots the entire operating bill, and the presence of such a cemetery is likely to bring new business to Wayne County funeral homes, hotels and restaurants.

Once it receives funding from the state, he said his best guess is about two to three years before the cemetery is operational.

"From a money standpoint, it's all profit for the city and county," he said. "We've been working on this for a long time. I hope I live long enough to see it. I hope they save room for me."