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South Florida National Cemetery will serve 400,000 veterans in Palm Beach County area

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- South Florida became home to the nation's newest national cemetery as hundreds of dignitaries, veterans and military personnel gathered for the dedication of the South Florida National Cemetery, Sunday afternoon.

The Department of Veterans Affairs hosted the dedication for the new 313-acre national cemetery in Palm Beach County, making it the nation's 125th national cemetery.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the cemetery will serve the needs of approximately 400,000 area veterans beyond the year 2030.

"It is an important reminder that this nation values and respects the service of those who have worn the cloth of this country," Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake said during a press briefing prior to the dedication.

During the ceremony at the cemetery Peake gave the keynote address and helped unveil a bronze dedication plaque.

"Army and Air Force personnel are on duty at the cemetery each and every day to provide a tribute to our veterans," he noted, recognizing the efforts of military funeral honors details that assist with the burial of each veteran in the national cemeteries.

Program Manager for Florida National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Daniel Blackman agreed the South Florida National Cemetery would impact the area veterans, as well as his team which supports the funerals.

"This is a huge impact on the veterans we have in the state," Blackman said. "Florida is one of the largest states for retirees...and we have Soldiers out here every day doing military funeral honors."

Last year the Florida National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program supported more than 3,800 military funerals in Florida, averaging nearly 350 services per month with firing details and casket bearers, Blackman explained.

Members of the Florida Army National Guard participated in the dedication ceremony as part of the honor guard, rifle firing detail and howitzer firing salute. Sgt. Keston Marin of the Florida Army National Guard also provided a bugle rendition of "Taps" at the close of the dedication.

The dedication took place nearly one year after the first veterans were interred in April 2007. Since then approximately 2,100 burials have taken place.

The wife of one of those veterans already laid to rest in the South Florida National Cemetery said the cemetery's convenient location to her home made it easier to regularly visit her husband's grave.

"It's a beautiful cemetery and I think it is important for him to be here close to me because I do live here in South Florida," Susan Sherwood, who lives in Boca Raton, said while visiting her husband's grave prior to the dedication. "It is so peaceful and so quiet. It is just a fitting resting place for all of those who served."

Sherwood, whose daughter is serving as an Air Force officer in Iraq, said the national cemeteries are important as continuing honors to military veterans.

"Our veterans and those who serve in the military do so much to keep us free," she explained. "They do so much for us; it's the least we can do to give back to them."