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: The National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona is located in Phoenix, and since 1979 the cemetery has been the last resting place for receipt advance and their families. The facility was started as a state cemetery and transferred to the U.S. department of veterans affairs in 1989. The cemetery is expected to reach capacity in another 15 years. For more on the cemetery we spoke with Jerry Rainey, the facilities director, and administrative officer Deborah Ryan. Good to have you both here. 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. Actually you would go down Cave Creek and turn right on Pinnacle Peak, that's where our main entrance is at.

Ted Simons: How big a facility is this?

Jerry Rainey: Right now we have got 220 acres, and 119 acres that's developed.

Ted Simons: 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 burial -- Ceremonies, burials do you do a year?

Deborah Ryan: A little over 3,000.

Ted Simons: My goodness that's a lot.

Deborah Ryan: Yes.

Ted Simons: Things have to be kept moving.

Deborah Ryan: We try to keep them moving along.

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

Deborah Ryan: The ceremonies are scheduled for 30 minutes, and at the beginning of the service is military honors, and that takes about roughly 10 minutes or so, and then at that point the families or the funeral homes have made arrangements for clergy to come forward to do a short committal service for the family. It's generally about 30 minutes.

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 another than dishonorable discharge.

Ted Simons: OK. As far as the assignment of grave sites, how does that work?

Jerry Rainey: We take each grave, one after another, and that's due to equipment because we can work the next available grave site, we do not reserve any of them unless it's of course connected with the Corey Shea act which is where a veteran is killed in active duty, and then if he has no other dependents, according to the Corey Shea act, 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 surrounded 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 is that relatively unusual?

Deborah Ryan: Most of our cemeteries are the turf, the grass. And so a lot of times families come in and they see the ground, and they're like, I don't know about this. But it's really lovely once you see it. It makes sense for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Do we see grave stones there? Do we see something else?

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

Ted Simons: No upright headstones, though, correct?

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Jerry Rainey: It's essentially just something that they've chosen to do here. A lot of national cemeteries of course they've got the marble upright headstones or flat headstones, and of course in this location they chose to do the flat bronze markers. We've also got what we call a column wall, and that is an above-ground column with niches that holds cremations.

Ted Simons: As far as cremation placement, that's basically 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: All right. Any special features at this -- In terms of electronics, or --

Deborah Ryan: Well we have a carillon it does Winchester chimes on the hour and then also plays military songs throughout the day on the hour so it's very nice.

Ted Simons: Anything else special there that you might not see somewhere else?

Jerry Rainey: We've got a memorial walkway there, we've got what we call founders' plaza, and you could probably tell me more -- Tell a little bit more about founders' plaza.

Deborah Ryan: Well, the memorial walkway that's part of founders' plaza has monuments that have been donated and -- By different veterans organizations in memory of female veterans, or CBs, there's all kind of monuments. It's nice to see them.

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

Ted Simons: I understand there's a computer kiosk that helps locate grave sites.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct. We've got a public information area, and of course to the rear of the public information there's a kiosk, and essentially all a visitor has to do is type in their loved one's name, and it will actually do a location and print out a map of the different sections in the cemetery. The other thing I'd like to mention is the national cemetery administration's also got an app for your cell phone that you can literally look up your loved ones at any one of our 131 national cemeteries.

Ted Simons: So this applies to all the national cemeteries.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Give me the history of the cemetery again. I understand it was run by the state for a while, then the feds. Talk to us about that.

Deborah Ryan: The first burials were in 1979. And then in 1988 the federal government took over with the stipulation that we -- It remain desert landscaping or water wise. And then in we had a $13 million renovation, and so -- For improvements in the cemetery.

Ted Simons: $13 million, what is involved with that?

Deborah Ryan: They built the visitors' center, which is lovely, a large glass building, we expanded on the roads, we built more committal service shelters to help for the families, and also water retention area so the heavy rains, there's not issue anymore, everything is taken care of. It'll go smoothly.

Ted Simons: And as far as development is concerned, surrounding homes and these things, how close are they?

Deborah Ryan: Well, we're sort of still out in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing -- There's nothing to the north of us, just sort of an area that's -- There's a mobile home park and some houses, we're still out in the middle of nowhere.

Ted Simons: You mentioned how much developed land there was, how much is still undeveloped as far as a cemetery is concerned. Any threat of reaching capacity any time? It sounds like there's a lot of activity out there.

Jerry Rainey: Well, we're actually within the next couple years we're going to expand with more walls for above-ground cremation, and we've got a lot of undeveloped land, so no, at this point we are not concerned at all with running out of space. And of course there's plenty areas around cemetery.

Ted Simons: Is this the only national memorial cemetery in Arizona?

We also have Satellite Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona, and we manage that cemetery as well. It's located across the highway from the V.A. medical center up in Prescott.

Ted Simons: And is that bigger, smaller? How does that compare?

Deborah Ryan: It's smaller cemetery, it's six acres, and there are approximately 3,000 in-ground burials, and not too long ago we built a column bearing wall so it's closed to in-ground burials but open to cremation placement in the wall.

Ted Simons: Last question, what should people know about this cemetery? What kind of information do you want to get out?

Jerry Rainey: Well, we want to get out that we're there, and we are a service to the veterans, and 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 while, and spend some time there. It's very peaceful, very nice.

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

Deborah Ryan: Thank you.

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

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