Last week, I traveled to the Cross County community of Birdeye in Northeastern Arkansas. While it's a small point on a state map, Birdeye will have a large role in honoring our men and women in uniform, as it is the home of the new Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. With the addition of these newly-dedicated burial grounds, Arkansas now has five cemeteries designated for veterans and their families.
For many reasons, Birdeye is an ideal site. Its beauty evokes reflection; its history is tied to patriotism; and its location makes it more accessible to many of our military families. The cemetery is situated in a peaceful area, where the sunrise quickly dries the dew, and the shade of nearby Crowley's Ridge helps temper the afternoon heat. Surrounded by tall grass and anchored by a lone majestic oak tree, this pastoral landmark will become the final resting place for 41,000 veterans and their families over the next 125 years. It is a magnificent setting that will be fitting for the heroes laid to rest there.
Birdeye is also a place that surviving family members of our veterans will cherish. We must remember that those who visit gravesites at our veterans' cemeteries also have made sacrifices for the well-being of our country. While their loved ones were away, they remained on the front lines at home, keeping households and families together while often coping with heart-wrenching emotions. We can never replace the time spent apart from their deployed spouses, children, parents, siblings and other relatives. We can, however, honor their sacrifice the best ways we know how.
The cemetery at Birdeye will give families the option of laying their military loved ones to rest in Eastern Arkansas. Until now, the most eastern veterans' cemetery in our State was in North Little Rock. Veterans' families who resided in the Delta and wished to bury their loved ones with full military honors had to plan long drives to visit the gravesite. Birdeye's location on 100 acres near Wynne will significantly reduce the time needed for those families to pay their respects.
Along with its more convenient location, this burial ground has its own lineage of military history. For many years, this land belonged to the Smith Family, who has long-running ties to military service dating back to World War II. Fittingly, Colonel Thomas Blake, the first veteran to be buried at Birdeye, led the committee that selected this piece of land for the cemetery.
These special cemeteries do more than provide resting places for our veterans; they remind all of us of the sacrifices made for our country and our way of life. You can stand in any one of these places of serenity and contrast it with the combat and noise that often led to sacrifice that helped establish and preserve our nation's independence.