GSA Helps Federal Agencies Provide Perpetual Care and Protect the History of Fort Devens Post Cemetery
December 1, 2020
BOSTON – Stand at the entrance of the Fort Devens Post Cemetery in Devens, Mass. - a small burial ground surrounded by a fieldstone wall and trees - and you will see dozens of rows of white gravestones, each offering a small glimpse into the life of the men and women who fought in multiple American wars.
The current cemetery at Fort Devens contains the remains of 34 graves that were transferred from the original cemetery at Camp Devens, established in 1931, and reinterred at the new cemetery when it was dedicated in June 1939. It also contains 97 graves transferred from several cemeteries at Boston Harbor forts including Fort Independence, Fort Warren, and Resthaven Cemetery on Deer Island.
While many of the veterans buried at the cemetery are from the two World Wars and other mid-twentieth century armed conflicts including the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the oldest is that of Lt. Robert Massie, from Virginia, who fought in the War of 1812, and died in a duel in 1817.
Next to Massie's grave, in the northeast corner of the cemetery, is a large, flat stone marking the grave of Civil War soldier Edward T. Johnston, a first assistant engineer in the Confederate Navy. He was made a prisoner when his ship, the Atlanta, was sunk by the Union Army. He died in captivity in 1863.
Some of those buried on the property are World War II German and Italian POWs who were captured in North Africa and held at Fort Devens between 1943 and 1946. To this day, consulates and other representatives of both countries participate in remembrance ceremonies annually and on special occasions for their veterans.
With so much history encompassed in this 3.5 acre property, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration (VA) and the Department of the Army’s Office of Army
Cemeteries, agreed that the VA should assume responsibility for perpetual care and operation of the Fort Devens Post Cemetery and ten other select Army cemeteries throughout the country.
In April, the General Services Administration (GSA), which is the Federal government’s real estate arm, began the process of transferring these cemeteries from the Army to the VA through its Public Buildings Services’ Real Property Utilization and Disposal division. GSA’s New England Region completed the transfer for the Fort Devens Post Cemetery in September. All of these properties will continue to be used as Veterans’ cemeteries in perpetuity.
“Caring for those who put on the uniform of the United States military is a solemn duty for our Federal government, and this extends to honoring service members after their passing,” said Christopher Averill, GSA Regional Administrator for New England. “I am proud that our GSA workforce was able to play a meaningful role in ensuring that the Fort Devens Post Cemetery continues to receive the necessary attention and dedication from the VA’s National Cemetery Administration. The heroes buried there deserve nothing less.”
The Property is individually eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places based on its association with the Fort Devens Historic District (Ref #93000437), and it is listed on the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s database (Inv #HRV.803).
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of our country's historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. It was established as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is overseen by the National Park Service. The National Register recognizes more than 90,000 properties for their significance in American history, architecture, art, archeology, engineering, and culture.
The transfer of this 81-year old cemetery will guarantee the protection of the land and more than 1,200 gravestones for years to come.
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