My father didn’t get what he wanted. Gordon L. Shaw, Sr., an attorney and World War II veteran, wanted to be cremated. But when he died of a massive heart attack at age 50, his mother insisted that his body be buried. My devastated mother, intent on keeping peace in the family, reluctantly deferred to my grandmother’s wishes. Dad’s remains are buried, next to his father’s and mother’s, in Evergreen Cemetery. It’s one of the few places I feel close to his restless soul. We lost him when I was 10 years young.
Kentucky veterans and their eligible family members are being denied their final wishes to be buried in a local national cemetery unless they’ve purchased a plot, a reservation is canceled or remains are relocated. Zachary Taylor and Cave Hill are “closed to new interments” except “in an existing gravesite” (think of bunk beds in a bunker). There’s room in New Albany National only for cremated remains. The nearest national graveyards with vacant plots are more than an hour’s drive from Louisville – at Lebanon National and Camp Nelson in Nicholasville. “I might as well be buried in Arlington National because nobody’s going to see me there,” said Prospect resident Mickey Gadansky, who has researched the issue.
Momentum is building for a proposal to establish, less than a mile from Zachary Taylor, a cemetery annex with as many as 30,000 burial sites. It would solve the severe shortage and would be the perfect repurposing of the Midlands site, a 36-acre swath southeast of the I-264/U.S. 42 interchange. The selection of that site for a new VA medical center remains mired in mystery and controversy.
The re-designation is the brainchild of Mike Yeager, a resident of Crossgate, the neighborhood immediately east of the “Midlands” property. He conceived it while inching eastward along U.S. 42 (next to Zachary Taylor) as he waited for traffic to surmount the infamously congested Watterson Expressway interchange.
A new interchange at Westport Road and a slip ramp that shunts U.S. 42 exit ramp traffic onto KY 22 have provided limited relief. But plans for additional improvements won’t mitigate the mess if a hospital complex is added. Notoriously flawed traffic projections and assurances by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet won’t convince those who know the landscape (including this child of Barbourmeade) otherwise. The exit ramp signage approaching the split between U.S. 42 (Brownsboro Rd.) and KY 22 (Old Brownsboro Rd.) labels both as Brownsboro Rd. Nearly two years after the slip ramp opened, it remains a perilous fork of sudden confusion for non-local motorists – and a bitter reminder than planners live elsewhere.
It’s also noteworthy that Midlands is surrounded by four public schools (Dunn and Wilder Elementary, Ballard High and Kammerer Middle). Furthermore, the area is growing. Northwest of the interchange, the only motel within a mile was replaced by a Panera, a Fresh Market and a strip mall. If the Midlands hospital complex proceeds, some worshipper of the Dumb Growth Deity may seek to add a motel to the mix – perhaps in a parking lot.
It doesn’t take much imagination to fathom the Midlands’ post-hospital gridlock. It’s happening in Dupont Square, where rogue developers have resolved that Dutchmans Lane can’t be too congested – despite the close proximity of Norton Suburban Hospital.
Unabated growth in already dense, congested areas is usually just stupid. But near hospitals, where ambulance delays can be deadly, it’s downright dangerous. Our veterans, who overwhelmingly oppose a downtown hospital site, deserve better.
There are other risks related to the simmering Midlands scandal. In late February, Rep. John Yarmuth requested a probe of two appraisals (spanning 14 months and $3 million) of the Midlands property, which a group led by developer Jonathan Blue sold to Veterans Affairs (the VA) for a whopping $12.9 million. “It is critical that not only the VA is a good steward of taxpayer dollars, but that the community has confidence in this project,” Yarmuth wrote.
Yet there’s a crisis of confidence likely to be heightened by the findings of congressional investigators – or worse, the possibility that nagging questions won’t be answered. Either scenario is a recipe for civil litigation aimed at averting this disaster.
It’s too late for my father to get what he wanted. But it’s not too late to honor the wishes of living veterans.