In the News
By Jeanette Steele
People often call Rep. Scott Peters’ office with a question that doesn’t have a good answer: How do I get a space in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery?
The bad news isn’t new news. You basically can’t.
The iconic Point Loma veterans cemetery has been closed to new casket burials since 1966, and the last open niche for ashes was filled in 2014.
Federal officials are holding an unusual open house Saturday to market the high points of what is probably some people’s Plan B: Miramar National Cemetery.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to look at Miramar,” said MaryAnne Pintar, district chief of staff for Peters, a Democrat whose district includes both properties.
In an extra flourish, there will be public shuttle buses on Saturday to show off the cemetery’s 313 rolling acres at the west end of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
“Now it’s Miramar’s turn. We want to show them the beauty of the cemetery and the possibility of the expansion,” said Rex Kern, director of both installations.
“I know that we don’t have ocean views like we do at Rosecrans, but this is also a very beautiful, natural, desert-type environment.”
Miramar National Cemetery community open house
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.
5795 Nobel Drive, San Diego
The Miramar cemetery opened in 2010 following a determined campaign by San Diego veterans.
Proponents didn’t relish driving to Riverside, the nearest open national cemetery, to bury their veteran friends and loved ones.
Now more than 2,600 people a year are laid to rest at Miramar, making it the 14th busiest installation in the National Cemetery Administration inventory.
Historic and lovely Rosecrans is not the only closed cemetery that people hanker for.
San Francisco National Cemetery, at the Presidio with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, probably tops the list, according to the anecdotal experience of VA regional and national officials who hear about the phone calls.
Close behind it is Golden Gate National Cemetery, which is on the peninsula south of San Francisco.
The most sought-after burial ground used to be National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, also known as Punchbowl. It’s located within a volcano’s crater just outside downtown Honolulu.
However, the VA built new walls with niches for ashes, providing some relief for the demand there.
Fort Rosecrans officials did the same thing at the Point Loma property — and it worked for a while.
After Miramar opened to casket burials in April 2011, VA officials in Washington chose to abandon a plan to build more walls for ashes on at Rosecrans.
Some San Diego veterans have expressed dismay since the decision was disclosed in 2013. Despite letters sent by the public to local congressional offices, the VA did not reverse its decision.
So, now San Diego County veterans are left to get used to the idea of Miramar. And the new cemetery certainly has its fans.
They cite the spare beauty of rolling hills covered in natural California plants. A new 30-foot bell tower plays patriotic music throughout the day and rings the hour.
It’s the only national cemetery with an avenue of flags that stays up around the clock, VA officials say.
The buildings and gathering places are made of wood and stone, blending into the natural environment.
And, importantly, there’s a sense of camaraderie among the frequent visitors — something that Fort Rosecrans doesn’t have, observers say.
It’s because these mourners share fresh grief. In most cases, their loved ones have only died in the past decade.
“There a feeling of family here,” said Kathy Bruyere, a retired Navy captain who volunteers at the Miramar information desk. Her husband, Tom, is buried under a section of headstones not far from the office.
A handful of people — a little more than 1,000 in 2016 — are still interred at Rosecrans each year.
Largely, they are spouses of the dead already there, who will join their loved one in a grave or niche.
In a few cases, people surrender their slots and they become available. That’s how fallen Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV came to be buried at Rosecrans last year, cemetery officials said.
In the recent past, VA leaders have found a place at Rosecrans for troops killed in action, a final measure of respect despite the longtime closure.
Kern said this week that it can’t happen anymore.
“The message is that Rosecrans is closed for all new interments, and that if the family wants burial at a national cemetery, Miramar is where they will have to go from here on out. This includes any future active-duty or KIA burials,” Kern told the Union-Tribune this week.
“We just do not have the space available.”