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Work begins soon on SE Minnesota veterans cemetery

PRESTON, Minn. (AP) — Construction is scheduled to begin soon on a new cemetery in Minnesota that will enable veterans be buried next to their fellow veterans and closer to home.

The Preston cemetery will serve southeastern Minnesota, as well as northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin. It will transform a postcard-like setting on one of the green, rolling hills that cradle Preston into a final resting place for more than 35,000 people, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

It will also provide an alternative to the nearest veterans cemeteries such as Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, about 140 miles away; Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spooner, Wis., nearly 200 miles away; and the State Veterans Cemetery near Little Falls, Minn., about 250 miles away.

That's important to Air Force veteran Chuck Amunrud, who wants his final resting place to be close to home.

"My father is interred at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, and to go visit his grave is quite a task," Amunrud said. "It takes the whole day and it's such an expansive area up there, you nearly need directions each time you go up there to make sure, 'Well, I am in the right area.'"

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will reimburse the state $10 million to develop the cemetery. Fillmore County officials expect to hold a groundbreaking ceremony this month. Construction is expected to last a year and a half.

Amunrud, also a Fillmore County commissioner from Spring Valley, has spent more than five years working on the idea. The county donated 176 acres for the cemetery.

"It's all prairie with large oak trees, young white pines and a lot of wildlife, and it's as far as you can see," Amunrud said.

The new location won't necessarily alleviate demand elsewhere, said the director of the state-run Little Falls cemetery, David Swantek.

"Once a cemetery is more than 75 miles from a veteran's home, more often than not they're going to choose a local burial option and not take advantage of a national or state cemetery just because of the distance," he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.