The following is the second in a series of Veterans Voices reports about the Mountain Home National Cemetery.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) — A national cemetery for veterans in the heart of Johnson City is growing.
More than 17,200 veterans are buried at the Mountain Home National Cemetery in the heart of Johnson City on 91 acres of land many consider to be sacred.
Plans are in the works to expand the cemetery by almost 10,000 burial sites in the coming years.
Behind the non-stop operation to accommodate new veteran burials and meticulously maintain the sprawling ground is a team of 14 employees, many of whom are veterans themselves.
“It’s maybe not glamorous but it’s noble,” said Logan Shell, an Army veteran who works as an Engineering Equipment Operator. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity.”
Shell is part of the team who tends the grounds and prepares the graves of others veterans who made the decision to use a benefit they’ve earned – to be buried and honored at a National Cemetery.
“It means a lot. I know that we are providing valuable service to the community and being available for our veterans and securing their legacy,” he said.
For the families of grieving families, administrators say their goal is to make it easy at one of life’s difficult moments.
“We make it very easy for the veteran,” said Sue Nehlen, the director of Mountain Home National Cemetery. “Once they get to the cemetery, that is their benefit – the opening and the closing [of the grave], the perpetual care of the site, the headstone or marker that goes on the site, all they have to pay for is what the funeral home does.”
“But here it’s free for the veteran and the spouse,” said Nehlen.
A 9-acre expansion of the Mountain Home National Cemetery is now underway. The expansion plan will allow for 3,200 new casket gravesites, 3,200 in-ground cremation gravesites and 3,200 columbarium sites.
More than 120 years after the first veteran was buried here, administrators say the cemetery is expected to remain open for decades. Currently, the site includes 41 undeveloped acres for future expansion.
One of the newest members of the staff – also a U.S. veteran – said the work is hard, but it’s also an honor.
“Being a veteran myself, I feel I have a duty to serve those who are no longer with us,” said Justin Wilcox, a cemetery caretaker. “It gives me pride in my work. Actually, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s like I’m at another duty station.”