The last unclaimed niche at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery was filled Tuesday morning, ending an era at one of the nation’s most beautiful and historic burial grounds for veterans.
“This closes the book,” said Doug Ledbetter, director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery.
The windswept, iconic cemetery has been shut to most new casket burials since 1966. But veterans could have their ashes laid to rest there in a series of columbarium walls overlooking the water.
Now that option is over for most people.
Burials and inurnments will continue, but on a very limited basis. Veterans who already have a niche or burial site — because of a spouse already resting there, usually – will still be accommodated.
An estimated 112,000 people have remains at Fort Rosecrans, some dating to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the 1846 Battle of San Pasqual.
It is the resting place of many heroes, old and new.
At least 23 Medal of Honor recipients are buried there. The most recent is San Diego Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor, posthumously awarded the nation’s top military honor for jumping on a grenade to save his team in Iraq in 2006
At least 37 U.S. service members killed in action in Iraq are interred there, in addition to 20 from Afghanistan.
After Miramar National Cemetery opened to casket burials in April 2011, VA officials in Washington, D.C., chose to abandon a plan to build more walls for ashes on Point Loma.
Some San Diego veterans have expressed dismay since the decision was disclosed last year.
Despite letters sent by the public to local congressional offices, the VA did not reverse its decision.
Former sailors especially treasure sweeping views of Navy bases along the bay and of warships heading to sea. On Tuesday, as the final unclaimed niches were filled, the amphibious warship San Diego sailed quietly past Point Loma.
Ledbetter, also director at Miramar, said he hopes veterans will give the new 313-acre cemetery a chance.
It sits on chaparral-covered rolling hills near Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. Deer from the nearby canyons are known to visit graves and nibble flowers, and — the joke goes – every veteran gets a fly-over from the comings and goings of Miramar aviators.
“It certainly doesn’t have the views of Rosecrans, but it’s got its own beauty,” said Ledbetter, an Air Force veteran himself.
“And we’re only in the first phase of six phases. As time progresses, the cemetery will only get more beautiful.”
On Tuesday, the last person to fill an unclaimed niche at Fort Rosecrans was Mary Rossa Luzar, a San Diego resident who died in 2010 at age 88.
Her journey to Fort Rosecrans – at the end of Row 9, overlooking the graceful sweep of the bay – started back in World War II.
She married her high school sweetheart, Stanislav Rossa, just before he joined the Army Air Forces. Rossa’s bomber was shot down off China on March 15, 1945, and the entire crew was lost at sea.