Miramar National Cemetery's first casket burial salutes Army medic, vets advocate

The casket carrying John Smith arrives for the service at Miramar National Cemetery on April 14. Photo: James Ruester
The casket carrying John Smith arrives for the service at Miramar National Cemetery on April 14. Photo: James Ruester

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City News Service

A longtime leader in San Diego's military veterans community on Thursday became the first person to be buried in a casket at the new Miramar National Cemetery.

John Smith died of heart failure Jan. 30 in his Spring Valley home. He was 62.

Smith, who had been an Army medic with the 1st Air Cavalry during the Vietnam War, was honored by about 200 friends and family members, including his widow, said Kirk Leopold, the cemetery director.

Smith was one of the founders of "Stand Down," an annual event that provides services to homeless veterans. He also helped launch the organization now known as Veterans Village of San Diego.

"Wherever you went in San Diego, John was there to help," Leopold said.

Roger Brautigan, the secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, called Smith a leader in every veterans group in the county.

Phase One of the new facility adjacent to MCAS Miramar will include 11,500 conventional gravesites, 4,900 in-ground sites for cremated remains and 10,000 columbarium niches — spaces in the wall of a mausoleum.

Leopold said the first interments of cremated remains took place last November.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at Point Loma stopped burying caskets in 1966, Leopold said.

   
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