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Winchendon one of two veterans memorial cemeteries

WINCHENDON — This December, each white gravestone in the Winchendon veterans cemetery had a green wreath with a red bow.

Wreaths Across America brings the annual wreath-laying ceremony begun at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 to cemeteries across the nation.

The first ceremony in Winchendon was in 2007, said the local coordinator for Wreaths Across America, John Farmer. In 2008, the group covered 235 graves with wreaths.

This year, they brought 1,660 wreaths and were able to cover the memorial stones for the prisoners-of-war.

The Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon opened in 2004 for honorably discharged, active-service veterans who have lived in Massachusetts, and for their dependents. The only other state-run veterans cemetery, in Agawam, opened three years earlier.

“A lot of vets like to go there,” said Joe Mazzola, veterans’ agent in Townsend, Pepperell and Ashby. “It’s very well kept.”

As part of his job, he helps veterans and their dependents when it comes time to think about burial. The Winchendon cemetery is an option many consider.

“A lot of them come in,” he said. “Winchendon is not very far.”

Burial in the state cemetery is limited to veterans, their spouses and their dependents.

In addition to the attractive, well-kept grounds, the cemetery is free for veterans and very low-cost for their dependents.

“It’s good,” Mazzola said. “It’s a good deal.”

The cemetery has full casket burials and cremated remains can be buried in-ground or placed in an above-ground columbarium. Services are held at the on-site committal chapel.

The cemetery gives veterans a free plot, headstone, vault and gravesite opening, said a local funeral director. The cost for these at a public or religious cemetery will run over $2,000.

The cost for spouses and dependents are low compared to standard funeral home rates. A full casket burial is $300 and a cremation burial is $150.

All other costs such as embalming, cremation and a casket are the responsibility of the family, the funeral director said.

The state-run cemeteries are not for everyone. Some veterans prefer being buried in their own town, Mazzola said.

Veterans services will provide a flag, honor guard if available, and a flat stone for those who can prove they were honorably discharged, the funeral director said.

Veterans agents like Mazzola are prepared to help veterans and their families sign up for burial in Winchendon or other veterans’ cemeteries.

A veteran can sign up before death for a plot. If the plot is not used, there is no penalty, he said.

In addition to service requirements, there are a few other rules to follow.

The plots cannot be reserved and no graveside services are allowed in the Winchendon cemetery.

More information and an application can be found at:

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