Riverside Now Home to America’s Largest National Cemetery

Riverside Now Home to America’s Largest National Cemetery

S.E. Williams

On Friday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration announced the completed acquisition of 315 acres to expand the Riverside National Cemetery.   

Discussions of a proposed expansion were in the works for nearly three years and last February, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a public draft of the environmental assessment of the proposed land acquisition.

As anticipated, the VA purchased land adjacent to Riverside National Cemetery (RNC). The purchase included the General Old Golf Course at March Air Reserve Base, from the March Joint Powers Authority for $12.5 million. The golf course will continue normal operations and remain open for the foreseeable future.

The RNC is the busiest National Cemetery in the United States and, although VA estimates adequate space remains for burials for the next 50 years, it recognized that additional land, preferably adjacent to the RNC, would be needed to meet the burial needs of area Veterans in the future.

The expansion plans for the Riverside National Cemetery

The goal, according to the VA, “Is to provide a National Cemetery of sufficient size and capacity to serve the projected needs of Veterans in the Riverside County, California area for the next 100 years.”

The decision was additionally rooted in the assumption that the burial needs of veterans are met if they have reasonable access to a burial option in a National or State Veterans Cemetery within 75 miles of his/her place of residence.

“With Riverside National Cemetery becoming the most utilized National Cemetery, it was evident we had to make arrangements to support the growing needs of our Veterans and their families,” said Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves. “The additional acreage will ensure our Veterans have access to the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

With the added land, Riverside National Cemetery now consists of 1,236.77 acres, making it the largest national cemetery managed by National Cemetery Administration (NCA)—a status previously held by the Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, N.Y. Calverton is now the second largest national cemetery with 1,045 acres, and Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Chicago ranks third.

Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, welcomed the NCA announcement. “This expansion will help ensure that those who gave their lives in service to our country will receive the honor and respect that they deserve,” he stressed. “I commend the VA for making the proper expansions to Riverside National Cemetery in order to address the evolving needs of veterans and their families,”

To maintain national cemeteries as national shrines, sacred to the honor and memory of those interred or memorialized there.
National Cemetery Administration

In addition to becoming the largest cemetery in the NCA, Takano commented on another reason he views the expansion as welcomed news. He further noted, “This is the most active national cemetery in the nation.”

Takano’s assessment is based on the number of annual internments there. According to cemetery officials, more than 8,000 veterans and their family members are interred at the Riverside National Cemetery each year.    

Sec. for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves & Congressman Mark Takano

Today, the Riverside National Cemetery remains a remarkable resting place in size and presentation. Currently seated on 740 acres, the site contains memorial circles, lakes, indigenous-styled committal shelters, a memorial amphitheater and monuments that honor POWs, those missing in action, Medal of Honor Recipients, Vietnam Veterans and others—Arlington is the only national cemetery in the nation that boasts more monuments than Riverside.

Riverside National Cemetery was established in 1976 when March Air Force Base transferred 740 acres to the National Cemetery Administration. The site was formally dedicated on November 11, 1978 with the burial of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ysmael R. Villegas. Villegas was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II.

The Veterans Administration operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries. For every veteran not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service.

Twenty percent of U.S. Veterans (596,000), who died in the U.S. and Puerto Rico in FY 2018 were buried in a national, state or tribal Veterans cemetery—65 percent of those internments were in the 20 busiest national cemeteries—Riverside National Cemetery ranked at the top of the list. As new national, state and tribal Veterans cemeteries open, this percentage is expected to increase.

P.O.W. M.I.A memorial

National cemeteries are considered cultural centers by many. For example, in fiscal year 2018, more than 5.4 million people visited VA national cemeteries across the country. The Veteran Administration’s Legacy Program is responsive to this interest and has an educational outreach initiative that works to memorialize the nation’s Veterans by sharing their stories of service and sacrifice. The agency partners with universities, schools, teachers, professors, and students of all levels to research veterans interred in national cemeteries and learn how they contributed to their country as servicemembers, and their communities as veterans.

Burial in a VA national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty under certain circumstances are also eligible for burial, as are service members and former service members who were eligible for retired pay at the time of their death.

In addition, a veteran’s spouse, widow or widower, minor children, and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. It is also important to note that eligible spouses and children may be buried in a national cemetery even if they predecease the veteran.

Information on VA burial benefits is available from the Riverside National Cemetery office online at https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/riverside.asp, at https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/, or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

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