GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — Starting July 1, family members will no longer be able to visit their loved ones at the Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Goldsboro — if the state budget passes.
Michelle Mooring lost her father, Lee Lambeth, in September. Lambeth was in both the Air Force and Navy and, according to his head stone, served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Lambeth is buried at the cemetery. Mooring visit a few times a month.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. This is all I have,” she said.
The cemetery is the final resting place of 264 veterans and has space for more than 6,000 more.
But if the state budget goes into effect, the cemetery gates will be shut to all people and to future burials. About 420 families have already pre-applied for burials that now might never happen.
The closure would allow state officials to save the $200,000 it would cost to operate the cemetery and to eliminate the positions of all five employees who work at the cemetery.
“We’re not going to be able to put flowers here. We’re not going to be able to come and just talk. We’re not going to be able to say, ‘Happy Father’s Day,’” said Mooring.
Larry Hall, the Secretary of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said he thinks that closing the cemetery sends the message that the state does not value veterans as much as it says it does.
When asked what the reasoning lawmakers have given him about the loss of funding, Hall said, “I can’t say I’ve been given a good reason why.”
Mooring said it is difficult to get any information at all.
“I called one office and they actually didn’t even want to hear it. They’re pretty much hung up on me and said, ‘No comment,’ and hung up,” said Mooring.
The veterans’ cemetery is one of four run by North Carolina. The others are in Black Mountain, Salisbury and Fayetteville. Hall said this one is being hit by the budget because it’s the newest, created in November 2015. Still, Hall said, those other cemeteries could also be impacted if this one closes.
If the budget goes through, the state would have to pay back the $5 million federal grant used to build the cemetery. Hall said the federal government could take the money from proceeds at the other state cemeteries and could prevent future grants.
Hall said he is hopeful that the budget will not go through, though he stopped short of saying he was confident.
Mooring, on the other hand, thinks even if the budget is passed people will still visit the cemetery.
“If it means walking over that gate or around that gate, people are going to come. This is their family,” said Mooring.