Last Memorial Day, we visited my father-in-law's and his wife's graves in the Veterans Administration's Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a beautiful day and a powerful emotional experience to walk among the rows and rows of simple markers shaded by trees. My husband is a Vietnam War-era veteran of the U.S. Navy, eligible for burial in a veterans cemetery, and as his wife, I am, too. Since that day, we've been considering whether our retirement planning should include burial in a veterans cemetery.
In 2012, there were 9.6 million U.S. veterans over age 65. Most of them are eligible to be buried in a veterans national cemetery at no charge. In many cases, their spouses and unmarried children can be buried with them. Widows and widowers can be buried even if they die before the veteran. The service includes an engraved headstone. In all, more than 4 million people, including veterans of every U.S. war going back to the American Revolution, are buried on more than 20,000 acres of land managed by the VA.
Even if a veteran is being buried in a private cemetery, he or she is probably eligible for a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a headstone, marker or medallion at no cost to the family. If you are interested in exploring this idea, you can find information on the Veterans Administration website. Burials can't be arranged in advance at national cemeteries, so make sure loved ones know where the veteran's discharge papers are kept.
Memorial Day originally commemorated those who died in the Civil War. It has grown to become a day that honors not only war dead but other loved ones who have gone before us. It's also a great day for picnics and getting the boat in the water for the season. May your holiday be both thoughtful and fun.