Honoring military heroes

Recently constructed cemetery
is place of honor for Indiana veterans

Sextons share personal experiences at memorial

By Amy Casebier
Contributing Writer

(November 2007) – Tom Sexton was born a Navy brat in Hawaii. He was 19 years old and attending the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville when his parents, Walt and Fern, found him unconscious in his dormitory. They discovered that he had a brain tumor.
“After three brain surgeries, with a stroke during his third one, he was disabled,” Fern said.
Tom remained a military dependent because of his father, MCPO Walter R. Sexton, USN retired, who served for 20 years. Tom was active throughout the Madison community, particularly in the Kiwanis Club.

Veterans Memorial

Photo by Amy Casebier

Ceremonies are often held
at the Madison facility.

Walt and Fern had been making out their wills and deciding where they were going to be buried. They could choose anything from Arlington National Cemetery or a burial at sea, but they chose the Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
“It’s gorgeous,” Fern said. “It’s so serene, quiet and peaceful.”
She and Walt took Tom out to see the cemetery in upper Madison and asked him if he would like to share the vault in which their ashes were to be interred.
“He said he wanted to be with us,” Fern said.
The Sextons later found out that Tom had another brain tumor. One night, he hitchhiked to Bedford and while walking on the road, was accidentally hit by a truck and died. He was 35.
“One week prior to his death, the state approved his burial (in the veterans memorial cemetery),” Fern said.
Seven has always been a lucky number for the Sextons, she added. Due to military health benefits, both of the Sexton children’s births only cost their parents $7 apiece.
“I only had to pay for my food at the hospital,” Fern said. All surgeries cost $7 as well.
When she and Walt went to the cemetery after Tom’s name plate had been put up, she fell to her knees when she saw what row his ashes rested in: Seven.
The Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery is the only state cemetery for veterans in Indiana. There are two national cemeteries in Indiana, one in Marion and the other in New Albany.
Alan J. Burnham is the recently hired superintendent of the cemetery in Madison. Before he was superintendent, Burnham was in the Air Force. He served three years on a base in Germany as a security policeman and was later assigned to work at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., site of the country’s only maximum security prison for the military. Afterward, he worked for the local Department of Corrections.
“To be able to give back to the veterans who do so much for this country, me being a veteran myself, it’s kind of rewarding,” Burnham said.
As superintendent of the cemetery, Burnham oversees the maintenance of the grounds, orders the monuments and ensures that they are maintained. He also makes sure that the chapel is available and assists veterans and families in any way he can. A work crew of three people mows the 100 acres on which the cemetery, memorials and facilities are situated, and women from the Department of Corrections also help keep the grounds in shape.

Tom Sexton

Tom Sexton

“We try to maintain it very pretty,” Burnham said. “It’s a place of honor for those who have served.”
A notable veteran buried in the cemetery is Tech. Sgt. Donald Hofkins. Hofkins was a flight engineer with the 345th Tactical Airlift Squadron during the Vietnam War. However, Hofkins went missing in action and died during that time. Later, he was found, brought back and identified. Hofkins, who was heavily decorated, was interred in the cemetery on July 7, 2006, with ceremonies and fly-bys.
“We’re proud of all our veterans here,” Burnham said.
Although there are no plans for any Veteran’s Day ceremonies at the cemetery, there will be a program at the Jefferson County Courthouse. A Memorial Day ceremony is held at the cemetery, and there will be a laying of the wreath ceremony there on Dec. 15.
Construction began on the cemetery and facilities in September 1999 with the installation of 1,500 vault liners. The cemetery saw its first interment later that year. In 2003, the building was dedicated. It contains a chapel and administration and maintenance facilities.
The cemetery provides several options for interment, including traditional burial, below-ground internment of cremated remains, and above-ground interment of cremated remains in columbarium niches. The cemetery also features an In-Memoriam Wall that honors veterans with un-recoverable remains. All veterans who were honorably discharged from the military are eligible for burial there with no cost. Spouses of veterans are also eligible for burial, but there are some costs depending on the type of interment.
The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset, and office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
“I’m really proud to be associated with it,” Burnham said. “We’re here and we’d like to be able to serve veterans who’d like to be here.”

• For more information about the Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery, call (812) 273-9220 or visit: www.in.gov/veteran/cemetery.

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