Prior to its official dedication in August 2017, Randy Reeves, former director of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board, said, “It almost brings me to my knees when I think about the men and women who would have their final resting place here,” Reeves said. “There is no more patriotic place than Mississippi and right here in Montgomery County. It is a shining light, and this [cemetery] highlights that.”
Since its opening, Cemetery Director Mark Lawson and his staff at the North Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery have been diligent in their service to area veterans and to the community to uphold the high standards due to a national shrine and the memory of those interred there.
The drive down Highway 82 is peaceful. Farm land, houses, a few gas stations and a Dollar General line the drive. Then, a shining tower comes into site, surrounded by manicured lawns and neatly organized buildings around a winding drive. It is the North Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
The 50-acre cemetery is picturesque. Surrounded by trees, it’s calming and peaceful -- exactly what’s needed for a family grieving the loss of their loved one. The staff at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery pay attention to detail, every part of the garden is in its rightful place and all respect is given to those who gave their lives for our freedom.
Lawson prides himself on that.
“I’ll tell anybody, I’ll put my staff up against anyone in the nation,” he said. “People like giving me the credit but all the credit belongs to them. They pay attention to detail.”
He said his staff understand the time a family spends at the cemetery can be hard for families, and they make them feel as comfortable as possible.
For example, instead of a graveside committal service, serves are held under the committal shelter and is not interred until every family member has paid their respects.
“I’ll tell them that it’ll take us about an hour and a half because we don’t mound up the dirt. We pack it down and then lay sand over it and rake it. After that’s done, I’ll tell the family they can see their loved one.”
Lawson served in the United States Navy as an air traffic controller for 20 years. When he retired, he began working for the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Newton as a cemetery representative. He was then named cemetery director at Kilmichael early on during the cemetery’s construction.
Work began on the cemetery in 2015 and the groundbreaking ceremony was held in August 2017. Lawson said after it officially opened, a couple from Batesville were the first to be buried in the cemetery.
“Lady [Nix] and I did a presentation in Batesville and after we presented, the family came up to us and said ‘That’s where we want them to be,’” he said.
Lawson said for him, it’s an honor to be able to serve the families of the fallen veterans who served their country.
“I wake up every day, and I beat my alarm clock getting up,” he said, “I love what I do. I thought I would be doing air traffic control for the rest of my life, but it didn’t work out that way. But, I love what I do now. I get to take care of veterans and their families.”
Lawson said the families of the veterans and his staff have become a part of his family.
“I tell them all the time, you’re family now. We see the families often, they come and check on their loved ones. They stop by to say hi to us,” he said.
He said the veterans and their families don’t have to pay for anything at the cemetery – the plot, burial, or the committal service. Families are responsible for funeral home costs and costs of the funeral. Funeral expenses can be great with some starting at $3,000 and going upward. Lawson said not having that expense can make it easier on the family.
“It’s free from them – well it’s not really free. They earned it, they served their country for it. They deserve it.” He said the funeral home that they work with understand and are still willing, even though it may cut into their bottom line.
He said with the help of the National Guard unit out of Greenwood, veterans receive TAPS and some receive a three volley salute.
“No one receives a 21-gun salute unless you’re the President of the United States,” he said. Lawson said when the guard can’t help, the American Legion will help. Lawson said right now, there are 31 service men buried in the cemetery. They served in World War II, Vietnam, Korea and Desert Storm.
For Lawson, it’s an honor and a humbling experience to be able to serve those who risked their lives serving the country.
“There’s no better feeling,” he said.