EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - An 18-year effort is taking shape in El Paso County with the start of construction on the Pikes Peak National Cemetery.
Vic Fernandez, 80, an Army, Fort Carson and Vietnam veteran, was the driving force behind site selection, funding and construction.
The site is marked by a sign on Drennan Road, near the intersection of Marksheffel Road and east of the Colorado Springs Airport.
Cows currently graze on the 374-acre site, but the first construction trailers have gone up and the front of the site has markers showing recent surveying work.
The Veterans Administration paid $30 million for the property and will spend another $36 million to build the cemetery with a capacity of nearly 100,000 veterans and their spouses.
"There are 95,000 in El Paso and Pueblo counties alone," Fernandez said. "We know of at least 300 people who are holding on to ashes that they want to be buried here. Other people want to remove remains currently buried at the Fort Logan cemetery in Denver."
Fernandez said a local national cemetery is a necessity because other national and state cemeteries are full, too small or too far away.
"The plan is to start early burials next fall," he said. "The new cemetery is scheduled for completion in fall 2019."
A New Jersey contractor received the project over 120 local competitors.
"However, it's owned by a disabled veteran who has done work for the VA before," Fernandez said. "The VA trusts him to do a good job out here."
On Friday, veterans who occasionally drove by expressed happiness at seeing a cemetery finally under construction.
Richmond Moore, Jr., another Army, Fort Carson and Vietnam veteran, was among the passers-by.
"This gives me options for after I pass on," he said. "I already have a plot in a family cemetery, but at least I have options now."
Moore also expressed concern about the deteriorating condition of Drennan Road; Fernandez said the road will be improved after construction, when heavy vehicles have left.
With a view of Pikes Peak and adjacent land available for future expansion, Fernandez and Moore agree that they can't imagine a better final resting place.
The two veterans shook hands after meeting, and promised to stay in touch.