Main Post Cemetery achieves National Shrine status

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Fort Knox is known for setting high standards within the Army. And those standards were on display when the Army National Military Cemetery inspectors, who serve as the principal advisor to the secretary of the Army on all matters related to the 40 national cemeteries, visited the installation in Septem-ber 2014 for an inspection. They were on post to see if it was meeting standards set by Arling-ton National Cemetery.

But passing the in- spection wasn’t an easy feat because the Main Post Cemetery needed a few renovations. Fort Knox not only passed its inspection, but is currently the only cemetery out of 40 that meets the national shrine standard. The team constantly receives calls from installations overseas such as Germany to those around the U.S. like Fort Drum, New York, asking them what right looks like.

Transformation began in 2010 when the inspector general of the Army concluded that burials and record keeping at Arlington Nation-al Cemetery had been grossly mismanaged. This resulted in the es- tablishment of National Shrine Standards by ANMC. These standards provide guidelines to ensure uniformity in appearance, maintenance, and record keeping of all Army cemeteries. In 2011 the IG directed inspections and accountability for all cemeteries. At this time the Fort Knox Post Cemetery was showing the effects of deferred maintenance, and additional measures would be required to meet ANMC National Shrine Standards. Despite this, Fort Knox’s DHR re- tained accurate records for interments of decedents at the cemetery.

Fort Knox Directorate of Human Resources and Directorate of Public Works partnership allowed staff to prioritize projects and allocate funds. A substantial project to clean and realign headstones was undertaken in early 2012. DHR ordered 88 headstones through the Department of Veterans Affairs to replace headstones that contained incorrect information or damaged from years of neglect. DPW installed all new headstones to the specified height and corrected any headstone that didn’t meet the standards for height and alignment.

Dave Marcum, the Fort Knox casualty operations coordinator, recalled his initial thoughts after seeing the condition of the cemetery and compared them with what he sees today.

“But the good thing was from day one we realized we had to start a process of making corrective actions before Arlington (National Mili-tary Cemetery inspectors) came down and said, ‘hey, you need to do something to your cemetery,’” explained Marcum.

During 2015 renovations the cemetery turf, which was comprised of varying grasses and weeds, was completely removed and re-sodded. An irrigation system was installed to provide much needed water during the summer months. This action also leveled the ground and remedied a “washboard” appearance that resulted from sunken graves. A flag pole and lighting was installed within the cemetery and repairs to the exterior stone walls began. Trees located adjacent to the cemetery were either removed or trimmed. A parking lot and sidewalk was also established near the cemetery.

DHR and DPW continued their efforts to achieve National Shrine Standard status through additional improvements in 2016. The entire cemetery driveway was replaced and repairs to the exterior stone walls continued. In addition, the cemetery was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. ANMC inspection team conduct a triennial review inspection in September 2016 which resulted in the Fort Knox Cemetery achieving National Shrine Standards.

The ANMC inspection team noted, “The Fort Knox Post Cemetery serves as an excellent example of what a high functioning team with senior leadership can achieve in improving cemetery conditions.”

Although Marcum initially didn’t have any idea where the cemetery was located when he was given the responsibility of maintaining the Main Post Cemetery, he’s developed a sense of ownership, and said he’s happy with the final results.

“Today I stand out there with a sense of pride,” said Marcum. “Not just for me, but the Family members who come and know their loved ones are being taken care of (on these) hallowed grounds. The cemetery isn’t for the dead, it’s for the living.

“It’s the way it should be, it’s a veteran’s cemetery. It shouldn’t look like something that’s been forgotten and I think the Fort Knox team (and) the garrison commander made it a priority, (be- cause) it was something of pride for Fort Knox.”

The Fort Knox Post Cemetery was established in 1920 as the final resting place for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their dependents.

Editor’s note: Portions of this article were courtesy of a Gold Standard story from June 25, 2015.

Dave Marcum contributed to this article. n