What once was a grove of trees is slowly being transformed into a site that will serve as a final resting place for area veterans.
Heavy equipment including a bulldozer and a track hoe were busy clearing stumps Thursday from the 1.5-acre spot near Antioch Baptist Church on N.C. 89 west of Mount Airy.
Don Holder, a 22-year Air Force veteran, stood nearby and watched as the machinery operated by Howard Hull and Billy McCraw pushed away stumps and debris left after timber was harvested from the land.
Holder has deeded the property to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion groups that own Veterans Memorial Park. It is valued at $6,500 on the county tax books, “and I didn’t need it,” Holder said.
He donated the land as part of a goal to develop the first cemetery for veterans in Surry County, which was inspired by a visit to such a facility in Delaware.
Both veterans and their spouses can be buried there, Holder said.
The clearing work by Hull and McCraw this week has left a patch of ground with fresh-turned earth that sits between a residential section and a forested area bordering the graveyard of the nearby Antioch church.
Making the cemetery a reality from here on out will be a step-by-step process that will rely on volunteer labor as well as donations, Holder said.
Such support already has come in the form of the heavy-equipment work led by Hull.
“I just happened to be by Charlie Hull’s tractor place,” Holder said of how Howard Hull, Charlie’s brother, came to be involved. Holder mentioned the need to clear the land, and Hull said, “I’ll volunteer to take the stumps out for you.”
Holder said he was impressed by the offer from a man who is about 80 years young, mentioning that the cost of such a job probably would be around $3,000 on the open market.
After the property is leveled, it will have to be seeded, a project Hull also is pursuing through some of his associates.
Gravel is another need for the site, and a small fence must be built between the housing development and the veterans graveyard.
Holder is hoping granite can be donated by a local source for a marker at the entranceway, and said another need will be a flagpole and stand.
“Eventually, we’re going to have to have grave markers,” flat stones that Holder also hopes can be contributed. He believes a local company could be enlisted to apply the inscriptions for free.
Such benevolence recognizes the financial realities of death and the inability in some cases for families to bear the expenses involved. “Most of your veterans don’t have a lot of money,” Holder said.
“One of the big things is since we’ve already got two people waiting to be buried there (whose remains have been cremated), we also will have to build a small mausoleum.”
Plans further call for establishing a fund to cover miscellaneous needs. “We’re going to have to have income to keep the thing up,” Holder said of maintenance tasks such as mowing.
“I’m hoping by spring, we’ll be able to start putting some people in there,” he said of the veterans cemetery.
Holder added that anyone who would like to assist with the cemetery needs can contact him at 401-6034.
Developing the facility represents a way to repay what those who’ve served in the military have done for their country, the cemetery organizer believes.
“If it wasn’t for our veterans, we might not be here free today, doing what we want,” Holder pointed out.
“And people need to think about that.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.