Griffith, a veteran who represents Cole County, implored the city council to offer 2.5 acres of the East Miller Park to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand the Jefferson City National Cemetery during a council meeting this week. The transfer has been in the works for several years, with Griffith joining the effort in 2019 after several veterans reached out to him.
“I made a promise to these veterans that I would see this through, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Griffith told The Missouri Times. “They stood up and made the commitment that they would protect the United States, and in return, there’s a promise that they can be buried at a veterans cemetery at no cost to their families, and that’s an obligation the VA should uphold.”
Griffith said the VA stopped allowing burials in the cemetery in 1969 and had not budged on reopening the grounds to new burials because of limited room. As the city council debates the measure, Griffith said he intends to continue working with administrators to facilitate the conveyance.
The park, located near Lincoln University, would be replaced with a new park a few blocks away under the proposal. The new acreage would more than triple the size of the cemetery with 5,000 additional plots, according to Griffith.
The plan has received support from numerous veterans organizations, including the Jefferson City Veterans Council, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the national American Legion — which said the closest national cemeteries for families in mid-Missouri was more than an hour’s drive away from the capital city.
“Many of these families of veterans cannot or are limited to how often they can visit their loved one’s graves due to travel distance, seasonal weather, road conditions, and ability with either age or physical impairment,” the organization said in a resolution of support filed earlier this month.
The Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission approved the transfer in February 2020.
The proposal before the council is a bill to revert the property back to the city if the VA doesn’t accept the property within the next two years, a provision added by Griffith. The Republican lawmaker said no one opposed the proposal during Monday’s meeting.
Burials in the cemetery date back to 1861, with more than 350 Civil War soldiers buried there before it was officially designated a national cemetery in 1867, according to the VA.
The council is expected to make a decision at its next meeting on Oct. 4.
Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.
Contact Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.