National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona

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Since 1979, the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix has been the last resting place for veterans and their families. It was started as a state cemetery, and was transferred to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs in 1989. It is expected to reach capacity after 2030. Jerry Rainey, the director of the cemetery, and administrative officer Deborah Ryan will tell us more about the facility.

Ted Simons: Next we tell you about the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, the last resting place for veterans and their families since . Jerry Rainey, the director of the cemetery is here to tell us more about the cemetery. Also joining us is the administrative officer Deborah Ryan. Thank you so much for joining us, where is this national cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: We're located about two miles North of the 101, just off of Cave Creek Road. You turn right on Pinnacle Peak, that's where our main entrance is at.

Ted Simons: How big of a facility is this?

Jerry Rainey: Right now we have got 220 acres, and 118 acres that's developed.

Ted Simons: So you still have quite a bit undeveloped.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: As far as burials there now, I read 66,000. But how many ceremonies, burials do you do a year?

Deborah Ryan: A little over 3,000.

Ted Simons: My goodness, that's a lot. Things have to be kept moving there, don't they?

Deborah Ryan: We try to keep them moving right along.

Ted Simons: Give us a description of a ceremony, how long, what would be involved with a ceremony?

Deborah Ryan: Ceremonies are scheduled for 30 minutes. At the beginning of the service is military honors. That takes roughly 10 minutes or so. At that point the families or the funeral homes have made arrangements for clergy to come forward and do a short committal service for the family. Generally about 30 minutes the services last.

Ted Simons: And who is eligible now for this cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: Any veteran and their spouse, and of course children under 18 years old who have an other than dishonorable discharge.

Ted Simons: As far as the assignment of gravesites, how does that work?

Jerry Rainey: We take each grave, one after another, and that's due to equipment. We can work the next available gravesite. We do not reserve any of them unless it's of course connected with the Cory Shea act, where a veteran is killed in active duty, and then if he has no other dependents, according to the Cory Shea act, then their father or mother are allowed to be interred with that soldier.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Describe the appearance of this national cemetery.

Deborah Ryan: It's really nice. It's a desert landscaping, and we're surround by mountains all the way around. It's very peaceful. And it's really a lovely cemetery.

Ted Simons: Is it desert landscaping -- obviously certain parts of the country would be considered but that is relatively unusual?

Deborah Ryan: Moss of our cemeteries are the turf, the grass.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Deborah Ryan: So a lot of times families come in and see the ground and they are like, I don't know about this. But it's really lovely once you've seen it, it makes sense for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Do we see gravestones there? Do we see something else?

Jerry Rainey: We do have flat bronze markers. We call it waterwise landscaping. We are on the drip irrigation system for some of the plants. It is a desert landscape and it's very beautiful. We'd like to have people come out and take a look at it. It's a gorgeous cemetery.

Ted Simons: No upright headstones, correct?

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Jerry Rainey: Essentially just something they have chosen to do here. A lot of national cemeteries, they have the marble upright headstones or the flat headstones. They chose to do the flat bronze markers. We have a columbarian wall with niches that hold cremations.

Ted Simons: As far as cremation placement, that's how that would work, in the wall there?

Deborah Ryan: With cremation you have a choice, in-ground burial or above-ground burial.

Ted Simons: Any special features, in terms of electronics?

Deborah Ryan: Well, we have a carillon that does Winchester on the hour and plays military songs throughout the day on the hour.

Ted Simons: Anything else special there?

Jerry Rainey: We've got a memorial walkway, we've got what we've called Founders Plaza. You could probably tell a little more about Founders Plaza.

Deborah Ryan: Well the memorial walkway is part of founders plaza, and has monuments that have been donated by different veterans organizations in memory of female veterans or C.B.s, it's very nice to see them.

Jerry Rainey: We've got the eternal flame going 24/7 there, the founders plaza. It's a very beautiful place.

Ted Simons: There's a computer kiosk that helps to locate gravesites.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct. We've got a public information area and to the rear of the public information there's a kiosk and essentially all a visitor has to do is go and type in their loved one's name, and it'll actually do a location and print outer a map of the different sections in the cemetery. The other thing I'd like to mention is the national cemetery administration also has an app for your cell phone that you can literally look up your loved ones at any one of our national cemeteries.

Ted Simons: This applies to all the national cemeteries.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct, it is.

Ted Simons: The history of the cemetery, again, I understand it was run by the State for a while and then the Feds. Talk about that.

Deborah Ryan: The first burials were in 1979. Then in 1988 federal government took over with the stipulation that it remained desert landscaping our waterwise. Then in 1994 we had a $13 million renovation for improvements in the cemetery.

Ted Simons: Again, $ million, what's involved with that?

Deborah Ryan: They built a visitors center, a large glass building. We expanded on the roads. We built some more committal service shelters to help for the families. And also water retention areas so the heavy rain is not an issue anymore. Everything's taken care of, it goes smoothly.

Ted Simons: Hopefully, yes. As far as development is concerned, surrounding homes, how close are they?

Deborah Ryan: We're sort of still out in the middle of nowhere.

Jerry Rainey: That's the idea.

Deborah Ryan: There's nothing to the North of us, just a sort of area that's a mobile home park and some houses. We're still kind of not populated there.

Ted Simons: You mentioned how much developed land there was and how much is still undeveloped as far as the cemetery is concerned. Any threat of reaching capacity?

Jerry Rainey: Well, we're actually within the next couple years going to expand with more columbarium walls. We've got a lot of undeveloped land. At this point we are not concerned with running out of space. And of course there are plenty of barriers around the cemetery.

Ted Simons: Is this the only National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Arizona?

Deborah Ryan: We manage the cemetery in Prescott, as well, located across the highway from the V.A. Medical Center up in Prescott.

Ted Simons: That is bigger? Smaller? How does that compare?

Deborah Ryan: It's six acres, and there are, well, 3,000 in-ground burials. We built a columbarium wall for cremation placement in the wall.

Ted Simons: What kind of information do you want to get out about this cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: That we're there, and we are a service to the veterans. It's free. It costs nothing to the family. And it's a benefit that they deserve. And of course we're here to take care of the veteran.

Ted Simons: What should people know about this cemetery?

Deborah Ryan: It's really beautiful, come out and take a walk and spend some time there, it's very peaceful, very nice.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for joining us on this special edition of "Arizona Horizon." Good to have you.

Jerry Rainey: Thank you.

Jerry Rainey:Director, National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona; Deborah Ryan:Administrative Officer, National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona;

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