CANTON, Ga. - The land is fallow, blanketed with rolling hills that might have made a beautiful golf course in somebody else's dream.
Soon, these 775 secluded acres in rural Cherokee County, north of Atlanta, will overflow with hard-fought memories from battles long past such as Iwo Jima, Inchon and Danang, and eventually from recent ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new Georgia National Cemetery will accept its first burials April 24, becoming sacred grounds and a lasting tribute to those veterans who served their country in times of its greatest need.
With nothing else nearby other than the swell of the piedmont beneath the protective silhouette of Kennesaw Mountain, the cemetery is a sanctuary of peace.
"It's going to be one of the most picturesque cemeteries because pretty much every where you look, you see mountains," said Sandra Beckley, the director of the cemetery, a $28 million project expected to serve veterans and their families for the next 50 years.
Diane King of Blairsville, Ga., will bury her husband and father there in a joint service - among the first interred at the cemetery.
Mrs. King said her father, D-Day survivor Lucius P. Young, wanted to be buried at the new cemetery.
"He had been there when they broke ground," she said. "He just kept telling me he hoped he'd live long enough that the cemetery would be in."
But he died last year at age 84. Since then, his remains have been kept at a funeral home, awaiting burial in the new cemetery.
Mrs. King's husband, Vietnam veteran Edward F. King, died in 1996. Both men had funerals with full military honors, so Mrs. King does not know whether they will be repeated when the men's remains are moved to the Canton cemetery.
But she is certain it is the right place for them.
On land donated by the late World War II veteran and Atlanta developer Scott Hudgens, the cemetery joins 122 others run by the National Cemetery Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The national cemetery program dates back to the height of the Civil War. In 1873, the program was expanded to include all honorably discharged veterans. It provides the grave site, headstone and perpetual care of the grave.
The government is preparing the grounds for the cemetery by using excavation equipment to carve out two-acre-wide sections throughout the 775 acres. (Only 300 acres of the hilly terrain is useable by the cemetery.)
Concrete crypts, spaced only a quarter-inch apart, then are inserted into the giant holes, which later are covered with sod. The cemetery will hold 31,000 grave sites when all the work is finished.
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