A bill that would more than double the size of the Black Hills National Cemetery has cleared the U.S. Senate.
The Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act will facilitate the permanent transfer of around 200 acres of land to the 107-acre burial ground. The land is currently held by the Bureau of Land Management
“I’m glad the Senate unanimously approved this commonsense legislation that will allow the Black Hills National Cemetery to continue being a place for military families to remember and honor loved ones who have served,” U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in a news release on Dec. 22. “By expanding the cemetery’s boundary, we can ensure that our military heroes will have a place to rest in peace for generations to come.
"We still have some work ahead us, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get this bill to the president as soon as possible.”
The land is located northwest of the cemetery, which sits off Interstate 90 Exit 34 just southeast of Sturgis. "It's pretty much barren," said Jerome Smith, assistant director of the cemetery.
The cemetery opened in 1948 and is the final resting place for around 28,600 veterans and their loved ones. They range from soldiers who fought in current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Spanish-American War of 1898.
A total of 903 people were buried in the cemetery in fiscal 2017, Smith said. In addition to South Dakota natives, military veterans from states such as Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana are also buried at the cemetery.
“Since Wyoming is one of the few states that does not have a VA National Cemetery, it is important that surrounding states have the capacity to ensure an honorable resting place for Wyoming’s veterans for years to come," U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in the release. "That is why it is critical that Black Hills National Cemetery can continue to serve the region for decades as a place for military families to honor their loved ones.”
A companion version of the cemetery expansion act, which was introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., passed the House of Representatives last year.