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story.lead_photo.caption An array of headstones at the veterans’ cemetery in Birdeye is laid out as a triangle. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

BIRDEYE — Small U.S. flags will flutter Wednesday, Veterans Day, next to the more than 500 headstones neatly arrayed in the tiny Cross County community of Birdeye, a federal holiday that honors the cemetery's fallen service members.

The burials at Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at Birdeye, 120 miles northeast of Little Rock, merit at least a salute or a nod of respect from all citizens. That's even truer after four decades without a military draft, when most of us have never faced combat or even marched to a drill sergeant's cadence. These interred Americans loyally served their nation, in war and in peace.

Veterans Day was known until 1954 as Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Congress changed the name in a bill signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A poll some years back found that only 21% of private employers planned to give their workers the day off.

There are four other veterans cemeteries in Arkansas. Three of them — in Little Rock, Fort Smith and Fayetteville — are federally managed. The older of the two state-operated facilities is located in North Little Rock. The 100-acre burial ground at Birdeye is distinctive for its idyllic setting.

The Delta site opened in 2012, partly because Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at North Little Rock was filling up 11 years after its dedication. The interred include vets of World War II and the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East, along with others who served in peacetime.

Gallery: Sightseeing — Veterans Cemetery

A striking feature of the Birdeye cemetery is the architecture of the welcome center and the outdoor committal shelter where services are held. Those ceremonies have been allowed intermittently since the arrival of covid-19.

The structures' designs, by Little Rock-based Fennell Purifoy Architects, earned a reward from the American Institute of Architects' Arkansas chapter. The cemetery's website describes the welcome center as "organized around a central entrance canopy that opens up, welcoming visitors into the space in a respectful way."

The committal shelter is "a quiet, dignified covered pavilion set in the terrain with trees and vegetation. It is intended to provide a temporary shelter for an interment service to take place in a solemn manner." Two nearby columbaria house the ashes of the increasing number of cremations.

Eligible for burial here are most military veterans who have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, as well as those who have died while on active duty. Also eligible are spouses and unmarried children of veterans.

Headstones are shaped with curved tops similar to those of wartime fatalities buried at U.S. military cemeteries in Europe and elsewhere overseas. Some bear brief personal messages, including some for men who saw combat and later died peacefully back in the United States.

For 91-year-old Lt. Col. Bob McGough, a World War II aviation cadet, the inscription notes that he was a German prisoner of war and received a Purple Heart. He is lauded, in words similar to others buried here, as "loving husband, father, paw paw."

Warrant Officer Gayle Harry Cox, who flew helicopters in Vietnam and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, is remembered with an inscription lauding the valor he brought to his service: "Via God and his Chinook, he left not one behind."

Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at Birdeye

  • Where: Off Arkansas 163 in Cross County, about midway between Wynne and Harrisburg.
  • Hours: Grounds open daily from 7:30 a.m. to dusk.
  • Information: Veterans.arkansas.gov/cemeteries/birdeye
  • Phone: (870) 588-4608.
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