(WBIR) The search is underway for property along the Upper Cumberland Plateau to build a new state veterans cemetery.

There are currently four state veterans cemeteries in Tennessee, all of which are in large metropolitan areas such as Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs has formed local steering committees to searching for new cemetery locations along the Plateau as well as southwest Tennessee to serve as a final resting place for our military veterans in rural areas.

"Personally, I know of three families that have to travel to East Tennessee in Knoxville to visit their loved ones," said David Oppenheim, the deputy chief for the Fentress County Sheriff's Office who serves as one of the co-chairs on the committee to find a new cemetery site in the Upper Cumberland area. "Once I contacted these families and told them what we're planning to do, they were so thrilled that future veterans will be able to be visited here on the Plateau where they won't have to travel so far."

"It's important for a family that wants to visit someone that is departed, they don't have to drive 150 miles to a grave site. They should be able to drive to a reasonable distance," said Mark Pfaffenroth, a retired U.S. Navy Commander who lives in Cumberland County and serves on the finance committee for the future cemetery on the Plateau.

The local steering committee is in the process of identifying possible sites for the new veterans cemetery to serve the estimated 25,000 veterans who currently reside on the Plateau. The group's goal is to present the state with three recommendations for cemetery sites this spring. Then the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs will take over the process of conducting environmental surveys, acquiring the land, and building the cemetery.

The federal government contributes to the cost of construction and design, but the money to buy the land comes from the state and donations. Right now the folks on the Plateau are working to generate donations to buy whatever site is ultimately chosen as well as raise overall public awareness of the project.

"We want people to know this is something we're doing and it is important to this area," said Pfaffenroth.

"We are going to gain 70 to 100 acres. Once we get the cemetery, we're looking at burial sites for 100 years which would be absolutely outstanding," said Oppenheim.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Upper Cumberland State Veterans Cemetery Initiative can make checks payable to the MOAA (Military Officers Association of America). Payment can be mailed to the following address:

Upper Cumberland Chapter Military Officers Association of America
ATTN: Cemetery Fund
197 Ivy Brook Lane
Crossville, TN 38558

If land for the new cemetery is donated, any monetary donations collected will be used for site improvements such as vehicle access as well as enclosures for shelters at the cemetery.

The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs website includes a page devoted to future state veterans cemeteries.

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