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Fort Sill National Cemetery opens


LAWTON, Okla. (AP) _ The daughter of a retired U.S. Army major whose body will be one of the first buried in Fort Sill National Cemetery was among a crowd of more than 1,000 who attended the cemetery's opening.

``I am so thrilled that we have a national cemetery here in southwest Oklahoma, and for my father to have the honor of being one of the first two people buried here is outstanding,'' said Margo Lubbers of Elgin.

Lubbers' father, the late Maj. Jack Lindstrom, served as a state representative and was chairman of the Comanche County Election Board. He was a real estate broker who lived in Lawton for 41 years.

Lindstrom's burial, along with another man's, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, said cemetery director Larry Williams. The cemetery's third burial is scheduled for Tuesday and a fourth is on Wednesday, he said.

The Fort Sill National Cemetery officially opened Friday with the raising of the cemetery's flag by the Fort Sill Honors Team, a 21-gun salute and speeches from dignitaries

``I'm very gratified,'' said retired Col. Hardy Stone. ``I think it's a marvelous day for the veterans of Oklahoma _ all of Oklahoma, really.''

The cemetery is on the plains of southwest Oklahoma with a view of the Wichita Mountains.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi praised the leadership of U.S. Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., saying that ``we would not be here were it not for his commitment to veterans.''

Principi also thanked U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, state Sen. Sam Helton, state Rep. Ron Kirby and Stone.

Stone said efforts to build a new national cemetery in central Oklahoma began in 1993.

The VA originally wanted to put the cemetery at Fort Reno, and in 1994, Nickles secured $250,000 for initial planning and design.

But a lengthy land dispute erupted over the rights to Fort Reno. The VA abandoned the site in 1995, and the same year, chose the Fort Sill site west of Elgin.

``I've smoked a lot of peace pipes and met and talked to a lot of Indians at night'' to make sure there would be no land conflicts here, Stone said.

The $12 million cemetery will not be complete for two or three years. But a three-acre section is ready for burials.

Nine highway signs are in place that will direct people to the cemetery.

Watts said he was honored to take part in the opening ceremony.

``It has never failed to humble me and for me to be awestruck by the dedication, the valor and the attitude of selfless service to our country,'' he said.

``That is what today is about. That is what this cemetery is about. The ground upon which we stand today will become hallowed ground, made so by the sacrifices of the veterans who will be laid to rest here in the coming years.''
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