Military cemetery faces government shutdown with steely resolve

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on October 8, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 8 at 11:20 PM

DALLAS — This is a place of symmetry and order.  A total contradiction to the chaos in Washington D.C.

"I don't think D.C. will allow this to fail or falter. I know we're not going to," said Larry Williams, the assistant director of the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. 

Despite the federal government being shut down and the VA furloughing 7,000 workers, Williams and his staff are keeping the hallowed national cemetery grounds pristine.

They had to let go of the contractors who mow, and the janitors, too, but visitors would never know.

"Our employees have picked up the pace, doing the mowing and doing the janitorial work.  Everybody's pitching in," Williams said. "We'll do everything we can... everything possible. That's the crew here.  We've got a crew of just about all veterans, and every one of them takes pride in what they do and the cemetery itself."

Williams is a veteran.  So was Heath Jordan's father.  He's buried at the cemetery, and Heath stopped by Tuesday to salute his grave. 

Heath is in the Navy, just like his dad.

"Being far from home, it's nice to come to see my loved one being taken care of with beautiful landscaping," he said. "Just coming here and being at peace."

Heath added he'd like to the thank the cemetery employees from the bottom of his heart.

Cemetery director Ron Pemberton said the crews that lay the headstones and stencil names in them have not yet been furloughed, but they may have to be if the shutdown drags on past October 15.  That's supposed to be a payday for many federal employees, and additional layoffs will likely begin then if the shutdown has not been resolved.

While other national cemeteries are warning burials might begin to slow, Williams is confident his staff won't let that happen. 

They average 16 burials a day.

"I feel like we can still do it. That's our main priority, our main job — to bury honorably — and this is what we're going to do," he said. 

The 7,000 VA furloughs that went into effect Tuesday forced the closure of all regional benefit offices, including the two in Texas located in Waco and Houston. That means veterans who tried to get help with benefit issues were met with empty offices and unanswered phone calls.

"It's not up to me," said Williams when asked if he was just ready for a solution. He looked around at nearly 39,000 graves on 150 acres and said, "This is my little piece of the pie here, and I'm going to make sure this little piece of the pie is taken care of."

The nation's leaders aren't making it easy on him, but it's what the nation's heroes deserve.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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