Local veterans demand gravel be replaced with grass at Fort Bliss National Cemetery

Local veterans demand gravel be replaced with grass at Fort Bliss National Cemetery

POSTED: Thursday, August 7, 2014 - 12:01am

UPDATED: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 2:19pm

It may have only rained a couple days this past week, but the damage left behind in one part of town continues to fuel a dispute among local veterans.

Like most years, the rains damaged several graves and headstones at Fort Bliss National Cemetery and local veterans are blaming the landscaping.

In 2006, Fort Bliss National Cemetery had the grass pulled from their grounds and replaced it with gravel - a project that cost millions of dollars.

A spokesperson for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) said the change was made because of the climate in El Paso.

"We wouldn't want to take water from the citizens of that area. The aquifer is drained down to nothing in El Paso," said Sara Elton with the NCA.

But the extreme makeover made many in the military community turn away and shudder.

"I don't want to be buried under the big litter box at Fort Bliss. I want to be buried under grass," said Jesus Vera, a Vietnam veteran. "How many civilian cemeteries have turned to desert landscape? Not a single one."

Vera and other veterans want the grass back.

They argue it would mainly prevent the graves and headstones from shifting and getting damaged from the heavy monsoon rains.

But a local funeral director says grass wouldn't make a difference.

"The main concern is the amount of rain we see at one time and the weight of the headstone, not just at Fort Bliss, but at all the cemeteries you're going to see this problem during any major rainfall," said Jose Amezcua from Sunset Funeral Homes.

El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke says he supports the idea of beautifying the resting place of America's heroes.

"I've spoken to too many widows and widowers of military veterans who want the ability to kneel at their husbands or their wives or their departed loved ones gravesite and they're unable to do that when they're being asked to kneel on gravel," said Congressman O'Rourke.

But O'Rourke says the federal government likely won't pay the $14 million dollars it would cost to lay down new grass.

As for this week's rain damage at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, the NCA says crews were sent to make repairs the same day it happened.  

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