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Veterans cemetery receives $3.5 million grant to prevent headstones from slipping, plant new grass

Perfect military order will soon be restored to the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Boulder City.

The cemetery was awarded a $3.5 million grant in October from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs through the Division of the National Cemetery Administration in an effort to restore slipping headstones of fallen veterans. The grant should allow for the veterans cemetery to correct the ground that approximately 26,000 headstones lie on.

“It really means a lot to all the veterans,” said retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Doug McHam.

McHam, who was the commander at American Legion, Post 31 in Boulder City, off and on for eight years, is involved in the post’s Americanism programs, which send youth to Reno to learn about the government, how it works and what it takes to get elected.

The $3.5 million grant will cover the costs of raising and realigning headstones, new topsoil and new turf to get all of the headstones in perfect alignment, according to Chris Naylor, superintendent of the cemetery.

“With the cemetery being nearly 25 years old, some of the headstones are sinking and shifting in the sandy soil out here,” Naylor said. “The grant is going to improve the burial sections and make them look really nice.”

A main factor of the headstone shifting is because of the cemetery’s location at the edge of the desert.

According to Naylor, when the high winds blow in from the desert, the sand it brings settles in the grass around the headstones. The headstones then begin sinking because of the soil rising to meet with the sand.

A fortification of some sort has been talked about to protect the cemetery from sand, including different types of walls and restraining systems, but nothing has been set in stone.

“I don’t know if there is (an adequate height) to stop the sand,” Naylor said.

Presently, the crew walks out after high-wind storms to sweep sand away from the headstones and pick up tumbleweeds.

“Our maintenance crews take immaculate care of the cemetery grounds on a daily basis,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. “But over time the soil has begun to give way around some of the older headstones. This grant will greatly assist us in the restoration and proper posture of the markers. It represents another step Nevada has taken to honor those who serve our nation.”

The grant also will make sure that all of the sod and turf laid on the grounds will be the same, not a blend that grows differently as is the case currently on property.

Right now, a fescue blend, Bermuda and other types of grasses lie on 41 acres at the cemetery. The grant will allow for one, constant type of grass that will grow congruently and consistently.

The headstones will be aligned on a grid system, Naylor said, that will lie roughly 10 inches below the soil. That system will be made of a “hard plastic” that will be equipped with break points so spouses or children of already fallen veterans may be buried next to their loved ones.

It’s unknown if the grant will cover the entire grounds until the contract bids come in, Naylor said, but the paperwork for the cemetery to receive the grant should be finished “any day now” and bids would come in after that.

“I’m assuming worst-case scenario, 70 percent of the cemetery (will be covered),” Naylor said. “These are just my own personal calculations, but I would say our window is between 70 (percent) and 100 percent of the grounds.”

Currently, there are 21.4 acres of grave markers on the cemetery grounds.

The Boulder City veterans cemetery is the second-busiest state veterans cemetery in the country, Naylor said, which is because of the high number of veterans in Nevada.

The superintendent of six years said the cemetery averages eight burials per day and 40-50 per week. The cemetery still has 38 acres of undeveloped burial land, which is enough room for “30 to 40 more years.”

This isn’t the first grant that the veterans cemetery has received for upgrades, as a $5 million grant in 2012 was used for developing 7.5 acres, including roughly 4,000 replacement crypts and 4,000 wall markers for cremation urns.

In 2011, a different $3.5 million grant was awarded to the cemetery for construction of an administration building, roadways, landscaping and other facilities.

“It’s really nice that the cemetery is always kept up to date,” McHam said. “It’s always clean and everyone is always real courteous.”

Contact reporter Randy Faehnrich at rfaehnrich@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow him on Twitter @RandyFaehnrich.

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