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El Paso veterans: Give our cemetery its grass back
By: Gina Benitez
EL PASO, Texas -- It's a project intended to save water and money, and according to the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, for the last several years, it has.
But some El Paso veterans feel the place where they will one day be buried should go back to what it once was: covered in grass.
"Whether they're carried back, or they walk back on their own, they deserve that. They deserve the dignity and honor of being buried at a place where their families can come and visit with them and take some time and be with them," said Frank Winslett, an El Paso veteran.
To Frank Winslett, a native El Pasoan and Vietnam veteran, this is not just a final resting place.
"When I pass, I want my son's children's children to come in and spend some time to kneel down, to sit down. Right now, there's no place to do that," Winslett said.
It's a legacy, one that will live on long after he's gone.
"When you walk in, it looks beautiful. It has grass on the side and the trees and it looks beautiful. Until you go in the inside, then it looks like kitty litter," Winslett said.
The Fort Bliss National Cemetery couldn't maintain the once-pristine, turf grass which covered the nearly 60 acres of grounds.
So, in 2007, they switched a multi-million dollar xeriscaping project, which has reportedly saved the cemetery $400,000 each year and dropped water usage by 90 percent.
But Winslett felt other alternatives could have been explored.
"The golf course, the parade grounds, they've got to be nice and green. And of course they could have also used it, to water the cemetery," Winslett said.
"When we came out here as kids, there was plenty of grass. Now you come back years later as an adult, there's nothing but dirt. It's kind of sad," said Ignacio Garcia, another El Paso veteran.
Garcia buried his uncle here. After 21 years of service in the U.S. Navy, he will likely be buried at the cemetery himself.
"What do you do? El Paso has grown so much in the past years that they need water for something else. So maybe they are saving money, which is good, I don't know. But it's a sad sight to see," Garcia said.
Winslett is legally blind, has degenerative arthritis, and lost sensation in both hands and his right leg.
He said he's never asked for a thing from his country, but this.
"They (veterans) have uprooted their families every two years or three years. They have gone out and done asked what this country has asked of them to do. We owe them that," Winslett said.
Veterans For The Green is a grassroots effort spearheaded by Winslett and several others to raise funds to bring grass back to the cemetery.
They will hold a protest at 10 a.m. Saturday across the street from the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.