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Willamette National Cemetery in line for national history honor

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - A color guard at Willamette National Cemetery makes is part of a 2009 ceremony for Vietnam veteran George Grigorieff. The cemetery could be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.Portland’s Willamette National Cemetery is poised to get a major historic honor.

Members of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation voted Thursday to nominate the 62-year-old Southeast Portland cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places during a meeting in Oregon City. It’s a national tribute to the military cemetery where 150,000 service members and their families have been buried or interred since mid-December 1950.

“Being listed on the national register for any property is an honor,” says Sara Amy Leach, senior historian for the National Cemetery Administration, part of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. “Our national cemeteries are significant for their association with the military and their accomplishments, and there is real meaning to that.”

Willamette National Cemetery was one of 10 properties being considered Thursday and Friday for the national register. The state committee, which nominates sites, properties and buildings to the national history list, met in Oregon City’s City Hall, 625 Center St.

Also approved for nomination to the national history list were Southeast Portland’s Waverly Country Club Clubhouse and the Lawrence Halprin open spaces and pedestrian malls in downtown Portland.

Once the state committee has approved a property, its nomination is forwarded to the National Parks Service, which evaluates the listing and names it to the National Register of Historic Places. The process can take several months.

‘Youngest’ cemetery

The 307-acre cemetery on Southeast Mt. Scott Boulevard is one of more than two dozen national military cemeteries that have been nominated to the national register in the past six years. Of the 28 nominated to the register since 2006, eight have been named to the national history list, Leach says.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veterans Administration) maintains 131 national cemeteries with 3.1 million gravesites in 39 states and Puerto Rico. There are 147 national cemeteries across the country, with some maintained by the Department of the Army or the Department of the Interior. Fourteen cemeteries were established in 1862, and are the oldest in the nation (12 are maintained by Veterans Affairs). The newest is Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Pennsylvania, which opened in January 2010.

Willamette National Cemetery is one of the “youngest” cemeteries originally operated by the Army to be considered for the national history honor, Leach says. The only national cemetery newer than Willamette is one in Houston that opened in December 1965.

In 1973, Congress transferred 82 cemeteries from the Department of the Army to the Veterans Administration. Since then, Leach says, a majority of the 131 cemeteries have been nominated to the national register as part of a congressional decree that all be named to the history list maintained by the National Parks Service.

Oregon has three national cemeteries: Willamette, established in 1950; Eagle Point, established in 1952 near Medford; and the Roseburg cemetery, established in 1897 as part of the Oregon State Soldiers Home. Roseburg’s cemetery and the Douglas County veterans’ hospital linked to it are also were nominated Thursday to the National Register of Historic Places.

Medal of Honor recipients

In 2011, Willamette National Cemetery was among the 20 busiest in the nation. Congress authorized the Portland-area cemetery in 1941. During the 1930s, veterans and civic groups pushed for development of a local national cemetery. The state donated land for the cemetery in 1949.

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Mary Beth Pinder and retired U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Pinder lay flowers on the grave of his Bob's uncle Lawrence Pinder, an army veteran of World War II in Willamette National Cemetery during the 2006 Memorial Day weekend. The cemetery received its official designation on Dec. 14, 1950. In February 1951, World War I soldier Blaine Clayton Van Ausdeln was the first veteran to be interred at the new cemetery. Since then, veterans of the Spanish-American War, two world wars and wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been buried in the cemetery.

Four Medal of Honor recipients also are buried there: First Lt. Arnold L. Bjorklund, killed during World War II; Sgt. 1st Class Loren R. Kaufman, killed in Korea; Lt. Col. Stanley T. Adams, killed in Korea; and Specialist 4th Class Larry G. Dahl, killed in Vietnam.

Former U.S. Sen. (and former governor) Mark O. Hatfield, a U.S. Navy veteran, is also buried there.