As a 19-year-old radio operator, Ed Chlapowski was lucky enough to survive the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He survived four years in the Navy and later settled in for a long career in Billings.
For when his time comes, the 86-year-old is thinking about being buried in the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel. Chlapowski was one of hundreds of veterans on hand Tuesday morning for the dedication of the new cemetery, much of which was paid for through donations and a countywide mill levy passed by voters in 2006.
"It's a wonderful thing here," Chlapowski said. "The kids lost (in wars), they need to be remembered on a daily basis."
Construction began on the cemetery after a groundbreaking on Memorial Day, and the cemetery's opening aptly came on Veterans Day. The first veterans can be buried there beginning in December.
After a celebration at Laurel High School, a large crowd wound its way the mile or so north to the cemetery, next to the Laurel Cemetery along Buffalo Trail Road. A who's who of local dignitaries came to the event, including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Flanked by the service flags of the five branches of the military, Tester played taps as retired soldiers fired a salute into the air. The sloping rise behind the soldiers led to an expansive view of the Beartooth Mountains, already well-covered with snow.
"I've seen cemeteries from Guam to Normandy, and each has a unique perspective, but none of them have a view like this cemetery," Rehberg said.
The cemetery is being built in two phases, with about eight acres in the first phase. Yellowstone County Commis-sioner Bill Kennedy, one of the main
proponents of the cemetery's creation, said the first phase has 3,000 plots and won't be filled for 15 years. A columbarium will have space for the cremated remains of 150 veterans. After that, another 37 acres to the north will be developed, with room for 19,000 more plots.
The cemetery will accept almost all veterans, their spouses and sometimes their children. A burial plot or niche in the columbarium is free, but burial fees range from $495 to $550, with another $200 charged to veterans from outside Yellowstone County. That fee goes to support the burial of indigent veterans.
Montana National Guard Brig. Gen. Stanley Putnam said a bond of brotherhood unites all veterans, which is why so many want to be buried in veterans cemeteries, even sometimes against the wishes of their families. There are veterans cemeteries in Miles City, Helena and Missoula. He said having this new cemetery in Laurel gives veterans in this area a way to be buried close to home.
"The veterans remain close to their families yet with their comrades," he said.
Burt Gigoux, commander of the United Veterans Council and chairman of the cemetery board, said veterans who wish to be buried in the cemetery should contact the city of Laurel or work with their funeral provider. Information and forms are also online at the county's Web site, www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov.
Gigoux said there are families with cremated remains of a loved one waiting to bury them in the new cemetery, and the columbarium should be ready by the end of December. He said cemetery supporters are trying to raise funds to build a warming hut, restrooms and other structures at the cemetery. They are selling engraved granite bricks for $300; anyone interested should contact Gigoux at 252-8766.