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Florida national cemetery entrance

Memorial Day and the Florida National Cemetery

By Diane Bedard Posted on May 21, 2020

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, commemorating the men and women who died while in the service of the U.S. military.  

In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each gravesite at national cemeteries. 

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. Traditionally, a Memorial Day event is held at the Florida National Cemetery at 11 am that is very moving.

Florida National Cemetery will stream a Wreath-Laying Ceremony for Memorial Day for 2020

Major General Hartsell, USMC
Major General Hartsell will be speaking at this year’s Memorial Day Tribute at the Florida National Cemetery. The program will be held virtually via Facebook Live, starting at 11 am.

Cemetery staff will conduct a wreath-laying ceremony to officially commemorate Memorial Day. The Florida National Cemetery cannot extend an invitation to the public to attend due to health and safety concerns, so there will be a virtual event to honor our fallen heroes.

Major General James Hartsell will deliver remarks at this ceremony with honors, the pledge, and a benediction. The public is invited to join in the event virtually at https://facebook.com/natcemflorida at 11 am on Monday, May 25.

History of the Florida National Cemetery

The Florida National Cemetery is located in the Withlacoochee State Forest, approximately 50 miles north of Tampa in Sumter County.

The Withlacoochee State Forest was acquired by the federal government from private landowners between 1936 and 1939 under the provisions of the U.S. Land Resettlement Administration. The U.S. Forest Service managed the property until a lease-purchase agreement transferred it to the Florida Board of Forestry in 1958. More information about the history of the Withlacoochee State Forest can be found here.

Currently, Withlacoochee State Forest is the second-largest state forest in Florida, divided into eight distinct tracts of land.

Natures sentinels, Sandhill Cranes, keep watch over the soldiers graves at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. Image courtesy of Florida National Cemetery.

The Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell was Begun in 1983

In 1980, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it would establish a new national cemetery in Florida, its fourth. Two major locations for the cemetery were studied: Cross Florida Barge Canal and Withlacoochee State Forest. The Withlacoochee site, though more environmentally sensitive, was supported by government officials.

On Feb. 15, 1983, the state transferred land to the VA for the development of a Florida National Cemetery. The first interment was in 1988. This is now the second busiest national cemetery in the U.S.

Florida National Cemetery at sunset.
Florida National Cemetery at sunset.

In 1999, federal officials asked the Florida Cabinet to grant land for the expansion of the Florida National Cemetery, providing 65,000 to 100,000 grave sites for veterans in the state.

Environmentalists argued that Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Forestry Division officials did not state whether the 179 acres of land within the Withlacoochee State Forest was surplus in accordance to a Florida constitutional amendment concerning the acquisition of land for conservation.

Before the Florida Cabinet meeting on October 26, the Department Veterans Affairs and the Florida Cabinet agreed that 42 acres would be removed as they served as the habitat for several endangered species. Florida governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet voted 7-0 in favor of selling 137 acres of land to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the cemetery’s expansion.

Monument and Memorials

Florida_National_Cemetery_downsized

The cemetery features a Memorial Pathway lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans. It is a beautiful and somber place to visit.

As of April 2018, there were 51 such memorials at Florida National Cemetery — most commemorating soldiers and veterans of 20th-century conflicts.

The American Veterans (AMVETS) donated a carillon on Oct. 9, 1993, which is located in the open meadow adjacent to the original administration building. The main assembly area is adorned with an open colonnade where Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies are held.

The main assembly area colonnade at Florida National Cemetery.

Office Hours: Monday thru Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed federal holidays except Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Location: Florida National Cemetery
6502 SW 102nd Avenue
Bushnell, FL 33513
(352) 793-7740 or 1074

Visitation Hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset.

*This article is culled primarily from the Florida National Cemetery’s website, with minor editing.

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