Ernie Cowart, the Director of the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Glennville, shared with Glennville Rotarians at their meeting on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, the history of the cemetery and its operations.
"The Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery (GVMC) in Glennville is situated on a 42.6-acre site and is part of the Veterans Administration (VA) network of Veterans' cemeteries. We are one of two state operated veteran cemeteries in Georgia. The other one is in Milledgeville. The Georgia National Cemetery is also located in Canton, and it is the only active VA cemetery in the state. Also, the Civil War historic site at Andersonville has an active burial section operated by the National Park Service. Marietta National Cemetery is closed to new burials and is a VA national cemetery built after the Civil War to bury Union soldiers killed in fighting around Atlanta," Cowart said.
Another State Veterans Cemetery is tentatively planned for Augusta.
The Glennville cemetery offers several burial options for eligible veterans, their spouses, and eligible dependents, and the cemetery is in its initial 26-acre phase of five phases. These include: 1400 double burial crypts; 766 conventional single-depth sites; 1800 cremation sites, which include a columbarium and in-ground sites; and spaces for memorial markers (vet or spouse whose remains are not available for burial yet). Also, expansion with new burial sections are expected to take place in the next five to six years.
"The cemetery is co-located with a Veterans Field Service Office, which provides assistance to veterans and their families with federal and state veterans benefits," Cowart said. "The GVMC was dedicated on November 28, 2007, and the first burial took place on December 7, 2007. It will eventually be the final resting place for more than 28,000 veterans, their spouses, and eligible dependents.”
He credits the efforts of former Glennville Mayor Brent Walker and retired General Mickey Kicklighter for the cemetery's placement in Glennville.
"As of today, 2,084 veterans, spouses, and family members are buried at the cemetery in Glennville," Cowart said on April 27, 2022. "The cemetery averages 200 burials per year, and the cemetery has already reached that number for this year. The previous high mark was 210 burials in 2021, and our year runs July 1 to June 30 with an increased interest in recent months from those who are finding out that the cemetery is located here in Glennville and at no cost for burial here."
Staff at the GVMC include two office workers and four maintenance employees, and another maintenance employee has been approved for the next year.
"Four of the six staff have family members buried in the cemetery, so our care and maintenance of the cemetery is personal as well," Cowart said.
For Director Ernie Cowart and Assistant Director Stacy Howard, daily tasks include scheduling burials; working with funeral homes; assisting the families of decedents and the general public with cemetery matters; and overseeing the cemetery operations.
The maintenance staff daily tasks include preparing and conducting burials; installation and maintenance of head stones; and buildings, grounds, and equipment maintenance.
"Many of you may have attended the Wreaths Across America ceremony held in December at the cemetery, which was interrupted by COVID until this past December. We had probably the largest crowd ever at this cemetery event, with over 500 people attending. Family members are allowed to place wreaths at their loved ones' graves, and the Glennville Faith Riders and other groups assist with this along with the sponsorships for the wreaths. We hope to return to more of a normal ceremony in 2022 and be better prepared for the crowds," Cowart said.
A Memorial Day ceremony will be held on Monday, May 30, 2022, and members of Ft. Stewart will participate as well as Glennville Mayor Bernie Weaver, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars) (VFW), American Legion, and others.
"In 2018, we won a national excellence award presented by the VA's National Cemetery Administration following a VA Compliance Review, and we are currently going through the review process again. The reviews usually occur every three years, but they were delayed last year due to COVID," Cowart said.
Cowart began at the cemetery when it opened in 2007 as the Assistant Director, and he was promoted to Director in 2010.
For those interested in more information on utilizing the GVMC in Glennville for a burial, contact Cemetery staff at (912) 654-5398.