“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” ̶ Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
On 17 July 1862, during the War Between the States, the U.S. Congress passed legislation authorizing the President to purchase “cemetery grounds…for soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country.” Fourteen graveyards were established that year. Today there are 147 national cemeteries, 9 of them located in Florida. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs administers 131 of the 147. Two (Arlington and Soldiers Home) are administered by the U.S. Army, and 14 associated with historic battles, such as Gettysburg, by the Interior Department.
Florida National Cemetery, located in the Withlacoochee State Forest near Bushnell, comprises 517 acres, serves over 1.9 million veterans in Florida, and conducts 7000 burials every year. It is the second most active national cemetery of those under the NCA. The land to develop this national cemetery was transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs by the state of Florida on 15 February 1983. Its first burial took place in 1988.
Those eligible for burial in a national cemetery must be serving in the U.S. armed forces or be veterans who served a minimum active duty requirement and were not dishonorably discharged. Their spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children with disabilities may also be eligible. Burial benefits provided at no cost by NCA include: burial plot; opening and closing of gravesite; headstone or marker with inscription; internment flag; perpetual care of the gravesite; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Gravesites are assigned by the cemetery.
Florida National Cemetery has three burial site options:
1. Casket: in-ground only
2. Cremation: in-ground
3. Cremation: above-ground columbarium
Interments are scheduled between 9a.m. and 2:30p.m. Monday through Friday, except for designated holidays. The administration office is open Monday through Friday from 8a.m. to 4:30p.m. It is closed on designated holidays.
For those not familiar with the cemetery layout, finding a gravesite is no easy task. There is an automated gravesite locator kiosk near the entrance, but even if you’re armed with a printed map, it’s still a challenge. However, the grounds-keeping staff are friendly and helpful. Avail yourself of their assistance. One caveat: if you are not familiar with the floral policy, it is best to bring fresh-cut flowers to lay on a grave. You can buy these at a roadside stand located to the east of the cemetery along Hwy. 673.
But even if you’re not looking for a specific grave, you may want to attend the Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies, or to walk the Memorial Pathway, bordered by memorials that honor veterans of 20th-century conflicts. The walkway is a place of serenity and contemplation.
The Florida National Cemetery is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. It is located at:
6502 S.W. 102nd Avenue
Bushnell, FL 33513