GLENNVILLE, Ga. --- A flag-draped coffin stood symbolically at the front of the interment shelter.
The ultimate icon of American valor was flooded in bright sunlight that poured through colorful stained-glass windows. A somber hush filled the room.
Edward Casteen and fellow comrade-in-arms Norman Davisworth paused for a moment. Both men were momentarily lost in thought.
Moments earlier, they were among a crowd of more than 600 who helped dedicate the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery-Glennville on Wednesday.
Military burial ceremonies are expected within days.
And someday, Mr. Casteen said, there will be one for him.
"This is my burial site. My home-after," he said. "It's the most wonderful place there is."
Mr. Casteen, a Glennville native and Vietnam veteran, said the cemetery will be a lasting shrine to America's men and women in uniform.
"This is the same thing as being buried at Arlington National Cemetery," said the retired 1st sergeant.
Mr. Davisworth already has a burial plot, but he was curious about the cemetery.
"I fold flags for a lot of veterans," said Mr. Davisworth, a retired sergeant major and Vietnam veteran. "I wanted to see it.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to veterans, of southeast Georgia especially."
Mr. Casteen and Mr. Davisworth made their way out of the interment shelter and continued their walking tour of the grounds.
The first phase of the 43-acre cemetery cost $6.8 million. A Veterans Administration grant paid for all but $425,000 of the expense, which the state of Georgia covered.
The initial phase includes 26 acres that will contain 2,000 caskets, 350 in-ground cremation burial sites and more than 1,000 columbarium niches, in addition to a scattering garden for cremated remains.
It is one of three veterans cemeteries in the state and expects to serve veterans in a 100-mile radius and beyond.
"This cemetery is sacred and hallowed ground," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Defense, a Glennville native and the day's keynote speaker. "Here, America's heroes end their fight for independence and take their final rest."
Mr. Kicklighter shared comments about each of America's major military engagements, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq. Along the way he recognized men and women in the audience who served from World War II to Iraq.
He also sought to honor the men and women of Vietnam.
"This war was my war," Mr. Kicklighter said. "Vietnam veterans have never been properly thanked for their service. This cemetery says, in a very special way, we do thank you for your service."
Mr. Kicklighter's remarks hit home for Jessie Rhodes.
"I'm a Vietnam veteran," Mr. Rhodes said. "That's the main reason I am here."
Mr. Rhodes said that before arriving at the cemetery he had planned to have his remains buried at a private cemetery someday. But walking the grounds, located off U.S. Highway 301 and old Dyess Farm Road, and hearing the day's many speeches made the Glennville resident reconsider.
"This is my home," he said. "It would be nice to know everything is taken care of. It could easily be my last resting place."
For local businessman Brent Walker, the day marked a milestone in turning a years-old concept into reality.
"It's been more emotional than anything else," Mr. Walker said. "When I think about this cemetery and all the work it took to get here ..."
Mr. Walker praised the men and women who helped make the dream happen.
"I've been proud to do it, but there were a lot of dedicated people who made this happen," Mr. Walker said.