SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – The long-awaited opening ceremony for the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sparta is set for Sunday, Nov. 15 at 11 a.m. The public is invited.
“I can’t believe it, it’s finally happening,’’ said Vernon resident and Vietnam vet John Harrigan, whose dream of a veterans cemetery in Sussex County began in 2008 when he saw one in Orange County, N.Y.
“I never thought it would be this complicated. All the BS you go through with the township, it’s unbelievable. Just to put the flagpole up, we had to get a permit. Then we had to get an engineer to seal it. It all costs money.’’
Harrigan has the Franklin Band set to perform at the ceremony. Freeholder Director Phil Crabb will serve as emcee.
“I don’t think this will sink in until after the ceremony,’’ said Harrigan, who had one other issue to resolve before finalizing his plans. “Every family wanted to be first to have their loved one’s ashes buried here. I said that’s not gonna work. Imagine wanting to be first in a cemetery? You can’t make this stuff up.’’
To the rescue came Reenee Casapulla, Recycling Coordinator at the Sussex County MUA. She suggested burying the ashes from retired American flags.
“They get a lot of retired flags there,’’ Harrigan said. “They work with the Abbey Glen Pet Cemetery [in Lafayette] which has the permit. The last time they burned 700 pounds of flags.’’
“For years we had been taking large quantities of flags to the Franklin American Legion right before Flag Day,’’ Casapulla said. “The legion would burn them as part of a Flag Day ceremony, but that created a black, billowy smoke. It became a problem because the legions didn’t want large quantities of flags being burned.’’
Fortunately Abbey Glen stepped in and offered their horse crematory. With the approval of the state, the MUA is permitted to burn 1,000 pounds of flags a year at the Abbey Glen facility.
The ashes from the most recent burning will be buried near the flagpole at the opening ceremony.
Meanwhile Harrigan has more than 100 families waiting to bury the remains of loved ones.
“We should begin the burials about a week to two after the ceremony,’’ Harrigan said. “I’m leaving it up to the gravediggers. Once we’re open, we’ll get a lot more inquiries.”