Veterans cemetery set for Fall 2019 completion
By Anthony Welch
Pikes Peak National Veterans Cemetery Committee chairman Vic Fernandez
It’s taken 18 years, but Vic Fernandez is finally seeing the dream he and fellow veterans Ralph McCutchen and Joseph Henjum had when they spearheaded an initiative back in May 1999 to establish a veterans cemetery in Southern Colorado.
Phase one of construction on the Pikes Peak National Veterans Cemetery began back in October. Completion of the cemetery is scheduled for the fall of 2019, Fernandez said.
McCutchen and Henjum have since passed away, meanwhile, Fernandez was starting to worry he wouldn’t live long enough to see it all come to fruition.
“I turned 80 this year,” Fernandez said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to be buried in (the cemetery).”
The new cemetery will serve the burial needs of more than 95,000 veterans and their spouses in the cemetery’s service area for the next 100 years. The Pikes Peak National Cemetery is the third Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemetery in the state. The site is located east of Marksheffel Road between Bradley and Drennan roads.
Phase one will accommodate 10,000 burials and/or inurnments, according to Fernandez. It also includes an entryway, gate and wall for the roadside section next to Drennan. That first section will be ready for early burials and funerals in the fall of 2018, added Fernandez, who’s a retired Army colonel that served two tours in the Vietnam War.
He, McCutchen and Henjum worked on getting approval for the cemetery for 10 years to no avail. Then U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn got involved, and with the help of Southern Colorado politicians Ken and John Salazar, the plan picked up some momentum, Fernandez said.
There was still a huge hurdle, however.
The VA had a rule that forbid a new cemetery to cover a community within 75 miles of Fort Logan, leaving Southern Colorado veterans no other option. Fate intervened, however, changing all that, according to Fernandez.
A hearing was scheduled for May 2, 2008 with the VA. The VA brass led by Undersecretary William Tuerk arrived in Denver. As they drove south, the first flakes fell around Castle Rock. They hit Monument hill in a blizzard.
The committee heard convincing arguments from Fernandez and others. Widows complained about the tough trip to Denver for mourners. But the storm VA bosses crawled through on Interstate 25 was the best evidence, Fernandez said.
For Fernandez, the cemetery means he won’t have to be buried in Trinidad, where he was born and raised.
“That makes me happy as a veteran,” he said. “This was a longtime coming. It needed to be done.”
Paul Lagrange has been hired to serve as the cemetery’s director, according to Fernandez. Lagrange has 33 years of active and reserved duty experience as a veteran. He’ll arrive this month to begin his duties, Fernandez said.
“There’s still work to be done,” he added.