Greenwood Cemetery, a fitting host for Veterans Memorial Circle project

Want to see these exquisite windows up close? On Spruce Up Day, Greenwood Cemetery will be hosting tours of the grounds and the chapel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. / Photos by HELEN KARAKOUDAS REDFERN | Co-chair, Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle

I and my fellow organizers of the Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle project wish to thank the trustees of Greenwood Cemetery for stepping up to help us in a big way this year: On May 16, 2020 – this year’s Spruce Up Day at the Main/Auburn roundabout – the staging area for our volunteers’ daylong planting marathon will be on the grounds of Greenwood, at the northeastern corner of this historic crossroads in Rockford’s North End.

Greenwood Cemetery is the final resting place for more veterans than any other cemetery in Winnebago County.

The welcome and the support we are receiving from the trustees of Greenwood Cemetery is a shining example of the local support that we depend on! As we start to learn more about this landmark in Rockford – did you know the chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places? – I am reminded of my own most recent experience with cemeteries; I have a personal reflection, and research, I must share.

‘Not unusual’ for combat veterans

My father was a veteran. When his health started to decline, my siblings and I asked him what his wishes were after he died. His answer was always “I don’t care.” If we gave him some options, his response remained “I don’t care.” That was followed by, “I don’t want a big fuss.” If we pushed, he would tell us to flush him down the toilet. He wasn’t being obstinate; he really didn’t care. At one point, he begrudgingly told us he wanted to be cremated. No other directions or wishes.

After my dad’s passing, my four siblings and I got together to decide what we were going to do with his remains. We concluded that we wanted our father to have a marker somewhere that would be a remembrance that he existed on this planet. Since he was a veteran, we had options. The rest of my family lives in northern Virginia. We contacted Arlington National Cemetery and filled out the paperwork for the application to have his remains interred in that hallowed ground. He was accepted.

In talking to the folks at Arlington, I had mentioned that my dad didn’t plan on where his final resting place was to be. They said that was not unusual. Combat veterans come to grips with their mortality at a very young age. The more battles they fought, the less they may care what happens to them after death. But for us, his children, we cared and wanted a place where we could go to visit and remember – to show our children, grandchildren and future generations what this soldier did for his country. His tombstone shows he fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The value of neighborhood cemeteries

In going through this experience, I have come to believe that each of us deserves a marker or memorial that identifies us as having been part of this country. This is for everyone, not just veterans. As a veteran, I will be able to be interred in a national cemetery. The closest one to Rockford is Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois – more than a 2-hour drive away.

But I would like to be nearer my family and have the ability for other family members to join me in the future, if they so choose. At a national cemetery, this is not possible as only a spouse, or a dependent, can be co-buried under certain conditions.

That is why cemeteries like Greenwood offer the best choice for creating a family plot, so that future generations can see that we existed and learn about our contributions.

VA burial benefits for veterans

For veterans, new benefits relating to burial took effect on October 1, 2019. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay up to $796 toward burial and funeral expenses for deaths on or after October 1, 2019 (if the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death), or $300 toward burial and funeral expenses (if the veteran was not hospitalized by the VA at the time of death), and a $796 plot-interment allowance (if not buried in a national cemetery).

And what already had been available from the VA, upon request and at no charge, is a government-issued headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world – regardless of their date of death. So, if a veteran passed away 45 years ago and the family now wishes a headstone or marker, that can still be arranged.

For more information about these options at Greenwood Cemetery, where more than 500 veterans are buried, please contact Greenwood staff at or call (815) 962-7522.

Remembering our veterans and those who pass before us is important.

How to help on Spruce Up Day

This beautification project that we are leading to respectfully revive and maintain the existing but barely recognizable veterans’ memorial at the Main/Auburn roundabout relies on people’s time and donations.

If you can join us for Spruce Up Day on May 16, anytime between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., it would be great! We can put you to work even if you aren’t able to kneel and plant.

If you can financially support us, you can do so at

We are 100% supported by private citizens and businesses giving what they can – no public money is received. Let’s continue to honor Winnebago County veterans and show them that we care by making this area a fitting tribute to their service and sacrifice.

by Ernie Redfern | Co-chair, Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle

Ernie Redfern, an Army veteran, is working on the Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle project with Rick Westlake, chair and manager of volunteer recruitment and fundraising, and with Helen Karakoudas Redfern, co-chair in charge of promotion. Ernie is the project planning supervisor. You can reach Ernie at

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