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National cemetery to host 1st Memorial Day service

It is a national shrine, a place to honor America’s veterans, the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces.

The Sarasota National Cemetery opened Jan. 9 and the cemetery’s advisory committee will sponsor a Memorial Day Ceremony today at 10 a.m., followed by an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The cemetery’s first memorial day declaration will feature guest speakers congressman Vern Buchanan, and former congresswoman Katherine Harris, who will dedicate the ceremony committee plaque that will be placed in the cemetery’s administration building when it’s finished.

Cemetery advisory members ask that spectators bring their own lawn chairs.

Sandy Beckley, the cemetery’s director, said the ceremony was not held Memorial Day because they didn’t want a split ceremony for that day.

So far, there have been 735 burials at the cemetery, which exists, Beckley said, because of the diligent work of team members who selected the site.

“Katherine Harris will be dedicating the plaque that acknowledges those members,” Beckley said, “who selected that site so many years ago.”

Rich Swier, the advisory committee’s chairman and a veteran, said it all began in 2002 at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport when Harris was handed a letter stating a need for a new national cemetery. “She took that ball and ran with it,” Swier said. Advisory committee members looked at 26 sites in five counties before settling on the current location at 9810 State Road 72 in Sarasota.

Swier said this location was preferred because the cemetery is within 75 miles of 393,000 veterans, not including their family members who are eligible for burial. Also, the cemetery sits on 295 acres of ranch land and is near a major road and relatively close to I-75.

The Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery is a reminder of the cost of freedom, Beckley said.

“We have to remember our freedoms were not free,” she said. “There are a lot of people who gave lives, and even more who were willing to give their lives if willing, if they were called upon.”

Nick Walter, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 708-7909.