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Hundreds gather at Camp Nelson for Veterans Day program

CAMP NELSON — Camp Nelson National Cemetery soon might add more ground for the burials of veterans and their spouses.

If all goes as planned, the 30-acre cemetery south of Nicholasville will gain an additional 21 acres, officials said during and after Wednesday's Veterans Day program.

Jessamine County Fiscal Court owns the land on the northeast side of the national cemetery. It is now part of Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, a 600-acre site that once was a training and supply camp for the Union Army and an enlistment station for African-American troops. It also became a refugee camp for freed slaves and their families.

The county has long desired to donate a small portion of the Civil War park to the cemetery.

"We're just waiting for the federal government to do the paperwork," Jessamine County Judge-Executive Neal Cassity said. "We're ready to make a deed."

Camp Nelson National Cemetery, created by Congress in 1866, is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is one of eight national cemeteries in Kentucky.

Camp Nelson has more than 14,000 people interred in more than 12,000 gravesites. (Some graves are "double occupancies" in which spouses are buried atop the husband or wife who died first.)

Unlike some national cemeteries like Arlington that are running out of ground, Camp Nelson wouldn't reach capacity until the 2020s. The additional land would give Camp Nelson space for graves through the 2030s, Cassity said.

Howard Howells, chairman of the Central Kentucky Veterans Committee, said ground will always be needed to bury those who served.

"For as long as we are a free nation, we will have those who serve our nation and we will have those to honor," Howells told the crowd at Wednesday's program.

Military families especially proud

CAMP NELSON — For Jonah and Donna Mitchell, the words of the Pledge of Allegiance aren't said in a fixed, mechanical way.

As their son, Jason Christian Mitchell, 29, prepares to return to Afghanistan in January, the pledge recited Wednesday at the annual Veterans Day program at Camp Nelson National Cemetery has taken on renewed weight and significance.

"As you look over this spotless and well-planned cemetery, you realize the sacrifices that have been made," said Jonah Mitchell, a Nicholasville Realtor. "Donna and I have truly embraced what it means to pledge our allegiance."

He said everything about the ceremony — from the setting under a cloudless sky to the passage of flag-draped casket pulled on a horse-drawn caisson — "filled our hearts with fear but yet great, great pride."

"And gratitude," Donna Mitchell added.

They were among a couple hundred visitors to the cemetery's annual program. Sherrye Guthrie, whose son David served as a Marine in Iraq, said more people would attend if they stood in the shoes of military families.

"They just don't understand the sacrifice the families make," Guthrie said.

It was a tender time, too, for Florine Cole of Lexington, who buried her husband, Charles, at Camp Nelson on Nov. 2. Charles Cole, 81, had been an Army paratrooper instructor for the 101st Airborne.

"I just walked down to his grave," Florine Cole said. "This is where he wanted to be buried."

Morris Alford, a Marine veteran of World War II and next-door neighbor to the Coles, said he and Charles discussed their war experiences.

"I used to tell him that I excused him for being in the Army," Alford said. "But war is war; it doesn't make any difference what branch you're in."

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, the son of a World War II veteran and the father of an active-duty member of the Navy stationed in Japan, said in his prepared remarks that freedom is a gift.

"But the thing about freedom is that it can't be bought or sold," Buford said. "But always remember it can be taken away by another entity, country, etc. that would have us live another way."