National cemetery adds niche spaces


POSTED: Sunday, July 05, 2009

The man who runs Punchbowl cemetery said he is often asked by veterans, “;Do you have a place for me?”;

The answer is yes.

Gene Castagnetti, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, announced last week that 778 niches will be added to columbarium courts six and seven by mid-October.

An additional 3,004 niches will be added to courts eight through 12 by June and at least 6,200 more in coming years at other Punchbowl sites, including a two-acre area occupied by the cemetery's office building, which will be relocated.

“;We want to get them (veterans) that sense of confidence and re-assurance that we will take care of them at their time of need, which is their time of death. This gives a great level of satisfaction not only to the veteran, but to the family of the veteran because that's their wishes and desires,”; said Castagnetti.

Six-hundred niches are filled annually. Since 2007, veterans administration officials across the country have been working to expand memorial sites to keep up with the death rate of veterans, most of whom are World War II and Korean War veterans. The current death rate is about 1,900 veterans a day nationwide.

The project at courts six and seven at Punchbowl was fast-tracked to ensure interments go uninterrupted, said Castagnetti.

The courts will be closed from July 13 to Oct. 15 for construction. The project includes adding niches to existing walls in the courts as well as adding two new walls.

Even though visitors will not be allowed in courts six and seven during construction, the chapel can be used as a temporary site where people can place flowers until the project is completed.

Family members who are to be interred in the same niche as a veteran are asked to safeguard the urn at home or make arrangements with a funeral home until the court reopen.

“;It will be an inconvenience to the next of kin but that inconvenience will be outweighed by the benefits that will be achieved by providing 778 niches,”; said Castagnetti.

The government is spending $4 million to add niches in courts six through 12.

Other committal services will continue during construction.




By the numbers

        » 818: Current number of niches available

» 600: Niches filled annually


» 778: Niches to be added at courts six and seven by mid-October


» 3,004: New to be added in courts eight through 12 by June 2010


Source: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific