NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – For 1,150 days straight, Korean War veteran Edward B. Kiley has been visiting the grave of his wife Patricia at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock.
Since June 2014, he is no stranger to the cemetery, which is looking to add burial space and improvements following an increase in burials. For Kiley, it's a short 5 to 10 minute drive to visit and talk to his wife.
"We were together for 62 years," Kiley said, "and she's still with me and it is the thing that we most would want."
The cemetery allows for veterans like Kiley to bury their loved ones beside them. Kiley said he is grateful for places like the Veterans Cemetery and wants to see more veterans have the opportunity to be buried in a peaceful place.
“Veterans to me, are special people. They protect our freedom and they’re in service,” Kiley said. “I hope whoever has to support the grant supports it whole heartedly."
Bill Wussick with the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs said it did not expect to apply for the grant to add more space. But after reassessing, the cemetery determined it would run out of certain graves if the increase in demand continues.
“We’re rolling into Vietnam War area veterans and Korean War area veterans, and it may also just be people are realizing there’s this burial here in central Arkansas and people are pursuing that,” Wussick said.
The cemetery opened in April 2001 and has buried over 7,000 veterans since. Wussick said from 2015 to 2016, there were 586 burials. From 2016 to 2017, there were 626 burials.
Wussick said the cemetery accommodates about three to five burials a day, and added an additional 198 burial times due to the increase.
“What this grant process does is allows us to plan for the future, build for the future need for the veterans that they’re serving and be ready for their needs when they need us,” Wussick said.
The federal grant the VA applied for is for $7.7 million, and the project length would take about three years. The cemetery covers approximately 82 acres, but only 40 acres are developed.
Kiley said he hopes the grant passes, so other veterans can have the option like he did; to be buried beside his spouse.
The VA will not know if they received the grant until the beginning of October. Wussick said legislators are fully aware of the grant and are very supportive.