Memorial Day and the Florida National Cemetery

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 grave site at national cemeteries.  A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

There will be a Memorial Day event at the Florida National Cemetery at 11am, Monday, May 30. It is open to the public and is very moving.

The Hernando High School band will perform, there is a fly-over, singers, bagpipes and a wonderful program to help honor our military.

Major General Hartsell, USMC
Major General Hartsell will be speaking at this year’s Memorial Day Tribute at the Florida National Cemetery. The program runs for approximately an hour, starting at 11 am. Crowds average 5,000 plus, so you may want to arrive early.

Major General James A. Hartsell will address the attendees. The program runs approximately an hour and the crowd averages 5,000 plus, so you may want to arrive early.

History of the Florida National Cemetery

Florida National Cemetery is located in the Withlacoochee State Forest, approximately 50 miles north of Tampa in Sumter County. 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. Currently, Withlacoochee State Forest is the second-largest state forest in Florida, divided into eight distinct tracts of land.

Florida_National_Cemetery_downsized

In 1842, Congress encouraged settlement here by establishing the Armed Occupation Act. The law granted a patent for 160 acres to any man who kept a gun and ammunition, built a house, cultivated five acres of the land and remained there for at least five years. Settlers moved in to take advantage of the generous offer. The area contained abundant timber and suitable farmland, appealing attributes to frontiersmen. In 1845 Florida was granted statehood.

During the Civil War, a sugar mill on the Homosassa River supplied sugar to the Confederacy. A robust citrus-growing industry developed in the eastern part of the area and became a focus of intense economic expansion soon after the war.

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.

The main assembly area colonnade at Florida National Cemetery.
Monument and Memorials

The cemetery features a Memorial Pathway that is lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans. As of 2003, there were 47 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.

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.