BHSU to research BH National Cemetery veterans

The Black Hills National Cemetery holds the remains of more than 27,000 veterans, their spouses, and dependents. Pioneer file photo

STURGIS — A contract was awarded to Black Hills State University by the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration to research the stories of the veterans interred at the Black Hills National Cemetery.

 The contract, amounting to $73,993, will enlist the research services of several professors and instructors, as well as students at BHSU. The staff and students will research the service history of some of the veterans interred at the cemetery and the circumstances of their service.

 Dr. Cody Lawson, one of the professors involved with the project, said one of the focus points will be to develop a curriculum and lesson plans for elementary schools. She said Black Hills State University students will be doing much of the research.

 “I have 15 education students I’m supervising. Some have family members interred at the cemetery. One of he objectives of the research is to find living relatives,” said Lawson.

Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ronald E. Walters said in a prepared statement, “We want to empower communities of young learners to see themselves as agents of their own history, researching, writing, and sharing their local history through the lens of veterans.”

“The award of this contract signifies the VA National Cemetery Administration’s dedication and commitment to providing enhanced memorialization of Veterans interred in our VA national cemeteries,” Walters added.

Leading the project at BHSU will be Kelly Kirk with the BHSU department of history, Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, director of the Honors Program, Lawson with the School of Education, Dr. Urla Marcus with the Center for American Indian Studies, and Dr. David Wolff with the department of history.  

The research contract is part of the Veterans Legacy Program, which has also awarded contracts to San Francisco State University and the University of Central Florida for research into other national cemeteries.   

Adrienne Benton, the director of the Black Hills National Cemetery, said the research program is part of an effort to “get the community involved with the nation’s cemeteries.”

She said 27,514 people are buried at the Black Hills National Cemetery. Their graves are marked by 20,400 headstones. The individuals include the veterans themselves, along with husbands, wives, and dependents.

The cemetery covers 106 acres of land next to Interstate 90, about five miles southeast of Sturgis. It also includes the 191 graves at the Fort Meade National Cemetery at the site of the old military post.

The Black Hills National Cemetery, which opened in 1948, is a feature unique to the Black Hills area, said Benton.    

“People forget that not everybody has this,” said Benton.  

People who don’t live near national cemeteries are often fascinated by this Black Hills facility.

“We have a lot of people driving down the Interstate and come in and say, ‘What is this place?’” she said. 

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