Sacred Grounds Great Lakes National Cemetery



Located in Holly Township, Great Lakes National Cemetery is a place of abundant beauty. Majestic, 100-year-old trees line Belford Road, forming a lush canopy that serves as a fitting and stately entrance to the sacred grounds, a final resting place for military veterans. One hundred American flags gently wave in the breeze on the Avenue of Flags, overlooking row upon row of white marble tombstones, eternal reminders of those who lost their lives serving our country. The property’s rolling hills are teeming with wildlife, including a magnificent Bald Eagle that has made the cemetery its home.

Area residents refer to the site where the cemetery was built as the old Horton Farm, which was owned by the Horton family for 160 years. In the 20th century, the property was purchased by Spanish-American War veteran and industrialist Bryson Dexter Horton. In 1927, Mr. Horton built a small house on the property and reportedly entertained such preeminent locals as Henry and Edsel Ford, who hunted and fished there. A rustic piece of land overlooking Fagan Lake, the 544-acre property was farmed until it was acquired in 2002 by the National Cemetery Administration.

GLNC is the second national cemetery built in Michigan and the 122nd in the national cemetery system. “I’ve been here since Day One,” says John Shilling, Cemetery Foreman and army veteran. “It was nothing but dirt when I got here.” On October 14, 2004, a ground-breaking ceremony was attended by more than 1,400 people, and the first construction phase began shortly thereafter. The cemetery began interment operations on October 17, 2005, and averages ten burials per day. As of this writing, 19,335 veterans and family members have been laid to rest there. According to John, full military funerals are performed for members of all five military branches. Everyone on the 14-member cemetery staff is a veteran, including Roy Luera, the new director appointed in July.

John says GLNC is visited by approximately 200 to 400 people each day, and more on the weekends. He added that many people in the area are unaware of the cemetery’s existence before their first visit, and are amazed by its beauty. “They take a drive to visit a loved one’s grave or stroll on the Memorial Walkway overlooking the lake. Many come to just sit and take a moment for reflection,” he said. Wildlife thrives on the cemetery grounds, says John, including deer, coyote and owls. “And the Sand Hill cranes are quite well known to visitors,” he laughed, adding that they often cackle at and sometimes even chase the guests. But the Bald Eagle is definitely a favorite. “He’s a big bird,” smiles John. “People love it.” During funeral services, the eagle will often swoop down from the sky or perch in a nearby tree.

Many patriotic observances take place at GLNC, including Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day ceremonies. The Veteran’s Day Ceremony is held on November 11 at 11:11am. Thousands attend the events, which includes guest speakers, a military honor guard, a gun salute and the playing of “Taps.” And many people volunteer their time to keep the cemetery beautiful, according to John. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans groups, and others all join in to clean the tombstones, help maintain the flags, and pick up trash. Vietnam Veteran Bill Wentz comes to the cemetery every week. He checks each “Old Glory” on the Avenue of Flags and replaces any that are tattered or torn. All GLNC staff members take pride in the work they do. “It means so much to us to honor our veterans and lay them to rest with dignity and respect,” says John somberly. “We do it for them: the veterans and their families.”

As visitors leave the Memorial Walkway, they encounter an iron tablet inscribed with a poem written in 1847 by Theodore O’Hara in memory of his fellow soldiers killed in the Mexican-American War.

Bivouac of the Dead
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat the soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet the brave and daring few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round the bivouac of the dead.


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