National Cemetery Administration
Fort Custer National Cemetery
Visitation Hours: Open daily from dawn to dusk.
Office Hours: Monday thru Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed federal holidays.
Funeral Service Hours: Monday thru Friday 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (except 12:30 p.m.).
This cemetery has space available to accommodate casketed and cremated remains.
Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
A Veteran's spouse, widow or widower, minor dependent children, and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities may also be eligible for burial. Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the Veteran.
Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty, or were eligible for retired pay, may also be eligible for burial.
Cemetery is located 6 miles West of Battle Creek, 12 miles East of Kalamazoo in south central Michigan. From the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport take Interstate 94 (E) towards Battle Creek to exit 95 Helmer Road. Turn left onto Helmer Road (North). Travel Helmer Road for 3.6 miles. You will come to a "T" intersection (traffic light) at Dickman Road. Turn left (West) on Dickman Road and travel 4.7 miles. The cemetery is located on the right.
Fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow-up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117.
For information on scheduled burials in our national cemeteries, please go to the Daily Burial Schedule.
Military Funeral Honors
Full military funeral honors are offered to every veteran interred at Fort Custer. This includes a rifle salute, playing of taps, folding of the flag and presentation of the flag to the next-of-kin. Funeral Home Directors or the Next of Kin are responsible to contact the Branch of Service, (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) the Veteran served to request and schedule Military Honors, (folding and presenting the flag to the next of kin). Fort Custer National Cemetery has 5 different honor guard squads (a different Squad each day of the week) who will perform the rifle salute and taps portion of military honors. Full Military Honors are available to be scheduled during the hours of 9:30 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. (except 12:30 p.m.) at half hour intervals. Refer to the Military Funeral Honors page for more information.
For educational materials and additional information on this cemetery, please visit the Education section, located below.
Fort Custer National Cemetery policies are conspicuously posted and readily visible to the public.
We welcome and encourage fresh-cut flowers throughout the year and provide flower containers for gravesite display. Cemetery visitors are free to use the containers located in receptacles placed throughout the cemetery. Once the blooms are spent or damaged by weather or deer, they are removed. They may also be removed for routine mowing or other maintenance.
Funeral arrangements to include a casket spray and three floral pieces without easels accompanying the casket or urn at the time of the burial will be placed on the completed grave.
Artificial flowers will be permitted only from November 1st through March 31st when their presence will not interfere with grounds maintenance. Artificial flowers are also permitted for a period of 10 days starting the Thursday before Easter and Memorial Day.
Christmas wreaths, grave blankets, and other seasonal adornments may be placed on graves from December 1st through January 31st. All seasonal adornments, Christmas wreaths, grave blankets, etc., will be removed on January 31st. Grave blankets can be no larger than two feet by three feet. Floral items may not be secured to the markers. Christmas Wreath easels over 24" inches are not permitted and will be removed.
The cemetery provides temporary plastic containers to the public for displaying floral arrangements in front of every section. All other containers are not authorized.
Permanent plantings, potted plants, statues, vigil lights, breakable objects, Christmas trees, alcoholic products, balloons, pumpkins, and similar items are not permitted on the graves. VA does not permit adornments, which are:
- Considered offensive
- Inconsistent with the dignity of the cemetery
- Considered hazardous to cemetery personnel (i.e. stakes, beads or wires which may become entangled in mowers or other equipment and cause injury)
Floral items or decorations cannot be secured to headstones or markers. Unauthorized items will be removed by cemetery personnel and discarded.
During the mowing and grounds maintenance season, all floral items will be removed from graves when necessary to facilitate mowing and maintenance operations.
Please exercise caution if placing personal, sentimental, or valuable items on gravesites. Fort Custer National Cemetery is not responsible for any items placed on gravesites and cannot replace or reimburse items that have been damaged, lost or stolen. All items placed on gravesites become the property of the United States Government.
Please do not park on any grassy areas. Please always remain on paved road areas.
VA regulations 38 CFR 1.218 prohibit the carrying of firearms (either openly or concealed), explosives or other dangerous or deadly weapons while on VA property, except for official purposes, such as military funeral honors.
Possession of firearms on any property under the charge and control of VA is prohibited. Offenders may be subject to a fine, removal from the premises, or arrest.
Fort Custer was named after General George Armstrong Custer, a native of the state of Michigan.
The original Camp Custer was built in 1917 on 130 parcels of land, mainly small farms leased to the government by the local chamber of commerce as part of the military mobilization for World War I. After a two-year grace period, the Army was allowed to buy it for about $98 an acre. Construction of the camp started in July 1917 and within five months 2,000 buildings were ready to accommodate some 36,000 men. During World War I, some 90,000 troops passed through Camp Custer. Following the Armistice of 1918, the camp became a demobilization base for over 100,000 men. Some of the troops passed through here twice, going to war and upon returning home.
On May 10, 1923, an executive order transferred 675 acres to the Veterans Bureau, predecessor organization to the Veterans Administration, for the construction of Battle Creek Veterans Hospital, which was completed in 1924. At one time, the staff and patients from the hospital farmed about 200 acres of the site. It was considered good therapy for patients and helped the hospital to be reasonably self-sufficient. During these early years, many pine trees were planted in the northeast corner of the cemetery, which today presents an attractive cathedral-like feature.
The establishment of Fort Custer Post Cemetery took place on September 18, 1943, with the first interment. Under Army rules, officers and enlisted men were segregated, even after death. As a result, Section A of the post cemetery filled with enlisted servicemen, while Section O was reserved for officers.
During World War II, the fort was expanded to over 14,000 acres. In addition to its use as a training base, more than 5,000 German prisoners of war were held there. Finding able farm labor during the war became a problem as more Americans were drafted into the military or worked in the factories producing war materials. Putting Fort Custer's POWs to work seemed an efficient solution to the labor shortage. The last German prisoners repatriated to their homeland and departed Fort Custer in 1946. They left behind 26 comrades buried in the old post cemetery. Sixteen of the German POWs were killed in an accident when their truck collided with a train as they were returning to the fort from a work detail on a sugar beet farm near Blissfield, Michigan. The other 10 died from natural causes. Germans sent there for detention were retrained for jobs and shipped to other U.S. installations as duty workers.
As early as the 1960s, local politicians and veterans organizations advocated the establishment of a national cemetery at Fort Custer. The National Cemeteries Act of 1973, signed by President Richard Nixon, transferred the cemeteries from the Department of the Army to what became the National Cemetery System (NCS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In addition, the act directed VA to develop a plan to provide burial space to all veterans who desired interment in a national cemetery. After much study, the NCS adopted what became the regional concept. It mandated the designation or construction of one large national cemetery in each of the 10 Standard Federal Regions. A policy was also established that new cemeteries would be created only on land already owned by the federal government.
The Fort Custer site, located midway between Chicago and Detroit, was the VA's choice for the Region V national cemetery. Toward this goal, Congress created Fort Custer National Cemetery in September 1981. The cemetery received 566 acres from the Fort Custer Military Reservation and 203 acres from the VA Medical Center. The first burial took place on June 1, 1982. At the same time, approximately 2,600 gravesites were available in the post cemetery, which made it possible for veterans to be buried there while the new facility was being developed. On Memorial Day 1982, more than 33 years after the first resolution had been introduced in Congress, impressive ceremonies marked the official opening of the cemetery.
Expansion of the cemetery, Phase II Gravesite Expansion and Development, began in June 1997 and was complete in October 1998. These 60 additional acres will provide 10,000 gravesites and additional roadways.
Monuments and Memorials
Fort Custer features a memorial pathway lined with a variety of memorials that honor America's veterans, donated by various organizations. As of 2007, there were 31 memorials at Fort Custer National Cemetery-most commemorating military organizations and veterans' groups.
The Memorial Carillon was dedicated September 22, 1985, donated by the American Veterans (AMVETS) service organization. In addition to the main carillon, each committal shelter is equipped with a carillon system that allows the cemetery to play songs and tapes for services. The carillon is part of the AMVETS international carillon program to provide living memorials in honor of American veterans.
The Avenue of Flags memorial project, an undertaking of the Fort Custer Advisory Committee, was dedicated May 26, 1986. The project was funded by private contributions received from individuals and veteran service organizations. The Avenue of Flags is composed of 152 flagpoles located along the main road, and an additional 50 flagpoles arranged in a semi-circle at the head of the thoroughfare. The Avenue of Flags is displayed from Easter through Veterans Day each year, weather permitting. The 50 flags, which represent each state, are flown on special occasions such as Memorial Day.
Private First Class Benjamin Franklin Adams (1936–2005) was born in Norfolk, VA. He was a talented right-handed pitcher in the American Negro League from 1952 to 1969. Adams' professional baseball career began with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952. The following year he was the starting pitcher for the Memphis Red Sox. He joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1955 and spent the remainder of his baseball career with that club. From 1956 to 1957 his professional baseball career was put on hold due to his enlistment in the Army, though he played baseball in the service. He was a member of American Legion Post 0059 and the Teamsters Union. He died on May 21, 2005, and was interred in Section T, Site 381.
Sergeant Donald E. Boven (1925–2011) enlisted in the Army after graduating high school in 1943 and served with the U.S. Third Army in Europe During WWII. He landed on Omaha Beach D-Day plus 2 and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Boven was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and stood out as an athlete. After WWII he attended Western Michigan using his G.I. Bill benefit. He was a star athlete there in football, basketball, and baseball. After graduation he had offers to play all of his sports professionally, but chose basketball. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Olympians in 1949. Throughout his career he played for the Waterloo Hawks, Milwaukee Hawks, Baltimore Bullets, and Fort Wayne Pistons. He retired from professional basketball in 1953 and began a long career as coach and instructor at his alma mater. He retired after 32 years there in 1985 and lived an active retirement. He died on March 10, 2011, and was interred in Section J, Site 1085 with his wife Charlotte.
Private First Class Wade Herbert Flemons (1940–1993) of Battle Creek, Michigan, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from September 1965 to September 1967. He was an American soul singer and founding member of the musical group Earth, Wind & Fire. His solo music career began in 1958, at age seventeen, when he released a regional hit "Here I Stand" while still in high school. By the late 1960s he was working as a session musician and songwriter in Chicago. He partnered with Maurice White and formed The Salty Peppers in 1969, which became Earth, Wind & Fire. Flemons was a vocalist in the group for their first two albums and left the band in 1972. He wrote more than 200 songs in his career and performed with acts such as Bo Didley, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, and Frankie Valli. He died in October 1993 and was interred in Section 11, Site 675.
We are developing educational content for this national cemetery, and will post new materials as they become available. Visit the Veterans Legacy Program and NCA History Program for additional information. Thank you for your interest.