National Cemetery Construction In Central California

By Loren Faulkner | September 28, 2010

A new National Cemetery is under construction in the rolling hills near Bakersfield, CA, in the lower central part of the state. The site was chosen by VA National Cemetery Administration (NCA) as one of six areas to receive a national cemetery after a 1993 law was signed by the President.


The Tejon Ranch Company has donated a parcel of 500 acres in the northern portion of the old Tejon Ranch for use as the Bakersfield Area National Cemetery. It is located about 25 miles east of SR 99 near Arvin along SR 223, in Kern County, CA.

In the spring, the hills are carpeted in green and wildflowers, including poppies. If ever a place could evoke the quiet dignity of a final resting place for veterans, it is here. The famous poem dedicated to fallen heroes — "In Flanders Fields" — comes to mind.


In October 2007, the VA awarded a design contract to Huitt-Zollars, Inc., of Irvine, CA. Working closely with the team to fast-track phase 1A were: Carl Taylor and the VA's representative, Mark Ivory, project manager; Ed Nicholson, contract manager; Bob Rowland, senior resident engineer; Wes Jones, director of the new cemetery; and Robert Capers, contracting officer. All provided input and direction to the project.


In December 2008, the VA awarded a construction contract to Combined Effort, Inc. — a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) in Jamestown, CA — to construct Phase 1A and open the Bakersfield National Cemetery by mid-2009.

"The goal is to provide all eligible United States veterans reasonable access to VA burial options," says Mike Johnson, co-founder of Combined Effort. "This new 500-acre national cemetery owned and operated by the National Cemetery Association will serve veterans' needs for the next 50 years."

Phase 1A includes early burial areas, temporary modular offices to house the VA administration, public services structures, maintenance facilities, and a building to be used by the military honor guard.

"When completed, the 50-acre Phase 1 development will provide 6,200 grave sites, including 2,380 pre-placed crypts, and 720 in-ground cremation sites and 3,000 columbarium niches," says Johnson.

Included in this construction phase are roadways, an entrance area, an administration and public information center, a maintenance complex, a flag assembly area, a memorial walkway, committal service shelters, as well as interment areas. Other infrastructure improvements will include grading, drainage, fencing, landscaping, irrigation system, and utilities.

"The VA anticipates burials to begin in mid 2009," according to Johnson. "The new cemetery will serve approximately 200,000 veterans in Central California who are not currently served by a nearby national or state veterans cemetery. It will become the state's eighth VA national cemetery." Combined Effort's portion of the work is a $2.8-million contract.

Construction Hurdles

"The biggest hurdle has been the wetter than normal rain fall for the area. Normal annual rainfall is 11–12 inches, but to date there has been 14.12 inches," says Johnson. "Morning fog at times cuts visibility to 100 feet, so each operator carries radios to communicate location and planned route."

In Flanders Fields

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, 
though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.