There was a time when Norm Sooy didn't understand why military veterans worked so hard for cemeteries they could call their own.
Now, as a 60-year-old man who's battled cancer, Sooy gets it.
"If you want to support the troops and talk about supporting the troops, then give them a place to rest," said Sooy, who served four years as a Marine in Vietnam and 22 years in the Coast Guard Reserves.
Camden County veterans got their final resting place Thursday when the county freeholders dedicated an eight-acre plot of land in historic Harleigh Cemetery as the new Camden County Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
The site, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Cooper River, already has a Veterans Memorial Wall located in a central sunlit area. There are also more than 300 Civil War veterans buried at the 122-year-old cemetery.
"This is the latest manifestation of our respect and appreciation for the service given our country by veterans," Freeholder-Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said.
It's been a long time coming for the county's estimated 48,000 veterans.
Sooy, who is now the county's veterans affairs director, said he first became involved with the effort to establish a veterans cemetery in 1977 because it was important to the county's veteran community.
It also helps that veterans can reduce their burial expenses.
Harleigh will provide a chapel service, grave marker and in-ground grave space, which normally costs $950, free of charge to eligible county veterans, said Chris Mojica, the cemetery's manager. Veterans' spouses also can receive a 30 percent discount on adjacent grave spaces.
Veterans must still pay fees for interment and the grave marker foundation. They also have to pay a one-time $143 maintenance and preservation fee, Mojica said.
For veterans to be eligible, they must be Camden County residents who honorably served in the Armed Forces as an active-duty or reserve member. Merchant Marine veterans with service during World War II also are eligible.
The veterans cemetery has room for the remains of 10,000 people, he said.
The county selected Harleigh because of its beauty and historic significance, said County Clerk James Beach, who coordinated efforts to find the location.
Under its agreement with Harleigh, the county will pay the cemetery $40,000 the first year, $50,000 the second year and $73,000 the next eight years.
The county's veterans cemetery joins counterparts in Atlantic, Salem and Gloucester counties, Sooy said.