FAIRBANKS - Hundreds of service members will now have the option of being buried in an official Interior Alaska veterans cemetery.
Gov. Sarah Palin signed the bill creating the cemetery during a Memorial Day ceremony in Fairbanks. Palin expected the cemetery be built by 2014.
Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla.
The federal Veterans Administration will pay for the construction, providing the state allocates money for operations and maintenance. Officials say some of the state money will come from sales of a commemorative veterans license plate created through the new legislation.
Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, expects a committee to identify land for a cemetery later this summer. One possible site is on Fort Wainwright property behind Birch Hill Cemetery.
"People are excited," he said. "It's been a long time coming. We're finally here; they will have hallowed ground."
Joe Fields, a Vietnam War combat veteran who testified before a legislative committee considering the bill, said he was moved to see a fitting conclusion to years of work. He brought his wife, Cindi, their son, Joe Fields Jr., and granddaughter, Mariah Fields, to the event.
Robert Ingram, a Navy corpsman in World War II, said he already has a plot reserved for his burial.
Nonetheless, he was gratified to know hundreds of other servicemen will have the choice of a final resting place in an official Interior Alaska veterans cemetery.
"It's the great hope for the future; we've not had it in the past," Ingram said.
Palin also signed a House resolution calling on the federal government to expand health care availability for veterans, especially in rural areas.
During the Memorial Day event, Palin called on Alaskans to remember those who have died in combat as well as those still serving in the U.S. military.
Also among those currently deployed is the governor's son, Track, who is halfway through a deployment in Iraq with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry, based at Fort Wainwright.
A few of his commanders were in attendance on Monday, and Palin said they gave her a good report on Track.
"Nothing could make me prouder to hear my son is a good soldier," Palin said.
Palin said she last heard from Track about a week ago when he checked in before heading off on a mission where he would be out of touch.
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