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Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Agawam receives a $4.8 million expansion grant

By Michelle Symington

Staff Writer

AGAWAM Governor Mitt Romney recently announced that the state has received a $4.8 million grant to expand the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Agawam, which will more than double the number of burial spaces for veterans.

The cemetery currently has 4,546 burial spaces, which include columbarium niches and pre-placed graveliners. The grant will expand the spaces to include 10,916.

Bill Walls, director of the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon, said that the grant will provide additional burial spaces to assist in the "ever increasing demand of our veterans."

"We are not running out of space, but we are certainly taking in more applications than we have space for," he added.

Walls said that the majority of the expansion project will be excavation. He said that there are still 40 acres of land available at the cemetery that is undeveloped, but the expansion will not take up much more acreage than what is already developed. However, he said more crypts will be provided.

Walls said that the work to expand the cemetery will begin in mid-October and should be completed in one year.

Many state officials are thrilled that the cemetery received the funding to expand.

Romney said, "Agawam provides a dignified final resting place to our veterans, both men and women, whose bravery, honor and loyalty on behalf of our country allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have today."

According to the press release from Romney's office, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 per day nationwide, whereas in Massachusetts it is about 20 per day. The press release also states that by 2008, it is estimated that 1,700 veterans will die each day.

Thomas G. Kelley, Massachusetts Veterans' Services secretary, said, "This is another great example of the strong partnership which exists between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Commonwealth, which consistently sets the standard for providing quality care to the men and women who have earned our thanks for their military service."

R. James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, said, "Working with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on this cemetery is one way Veterans' Affairs honors our commitment to the men and women who have served in uniform. This partnership provides a final resting place for Massachusetts veterans that meets the high standards of a national shrine."

Michael Connors, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Massachusetts, said, "I am thrilled we have received this funding. It is so important that we continue to show respect for our veterans and provide a decent and honorable place for them to be interred."

The Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Agawam serves veterans from western Massachusetts and was made possible through the donation of 61 acres of land from Edward Squazza, a farmer who celebrated his 90th birthday this year.

TSgt. Robert L. LaRue, was the first person to be buried at the cemetery in Agawam on May 23, 2001. LaRue served in the United States Army Air Forces and is a Purple Heart recipient, veteran of World War II and an ex-POW.

Since it opened its doors in 2001, about 2,600 veterans, spouses and dependent children have been buried there.

The two Massachusetts Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon, serve veterans, spouses and children. The veterans buried at the cemeteries must have been honorably discharged or have died while on active duty. The cemeteries do not charge for the burial of veterans.

In addition to the funding for the Agawam cemetery, the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon received a $3 million expansion grant in late spring of this year.