National Cemeteries

In 1862, thousands had already died in the second summer of the American Civil War that few believed could last more than several months. On July 17 Congress enacted legislation authorizing President Lincoln to purchase “cemetery grounds to be used as national cemeteries for soldiers who shall have died in service of the country.” Fourteen cemeteries were established that year, including one in the sleepy Maryland town of Sharpsburg where 4,476 Union (no Confederates are in national cemeteries) soldiers were laid to rest after a day of slaughter known as the Battle of Antietum. (By comparison approximately 3,000 American, British, and Canadians died on June 6, 1944 in the invasion of Normandy.) By 1870, the remains of 300,000 Union dead had been buried in 73 national cemeteries. It was in 1873 that all veterans became eligible for burial. Today the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is responsible for 120 cemeteries in 39 states and the territory of Puerto Rico. Nearly 14,000 acres of land are devoted to memoralization of those who served this grateful nation.
Veterans’ deaths are increasing each year as World War II and Korean War-era veterans continue to advance in age. Based on 1990 census data, annual veteran deaths are expected to peak at 620,000 in the year 2008 before a gradual slow decline. The NCA’s goal is to provide veterans access to a burial within 75 miles of their residence. In 1987 Cleveland and Pittsburgh were identified as two areas most in need of a new cemetery.

On September 10, 2000 a new VA cemetery was dedicated for the 540,000 veterans and their families in northeast Ohio. This 274 acre cemetery site is located in Guilford Township 45 miles south of Cleveland in Medina County near the town of Rittman. It can be easily reached by driving west on Interstate 76 about 15 miles beyond Akron to exit ramp #7 (just beyond Wadsworth). Follow the signs south on Route 57 less than 2 miles to Seville Road and then 3.5 miles west to Sawiga Road. A quarter of a mile south is the entrance to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery. I found this cemetery quite by accident in the Fall of 2002 while on my way to Orrville to visit the Smuckers Outlet Store. The entrance and office are constructed of beautiful cut-stone and look rather out-of-place in the middle of an open field. I recommend that you stop when in the area and drive around the 64 acre section that is now open to the public. If you are not in the area, then visit it on its web site at

Cemetery construction is beginning in 2004 on a 292 acre site in Washington County southwest of Pittsburgh to serve the needs of the more than 323,000 veterans in that metropolitan area. It will be the third national cemetery in Pennsylvania. The other two are located in Indiantown Gap and Philadelphia