Brookings veteran finds calling working for new MN cemetery
Chad Bonde oversees new vets cemetery in Redwood Falls
BROOKINGS — Minnesota has five cemeteries serving veterans and their families. Fort Snelling National Cemetery and four state cemeteries serving them at: Duluth; Little Falls; Preston; and Redwood Falls. Director of Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery-Redwood Falls, the newest of the four, is Chad Bonde, formerly of Brookings.
Redwood Falls had its first burial on Aug. 7. It was officially dedicated on Aug. 20. To date it has seen the interment of 17 veterans and one spouse. The cemetery grounds cover 81.5 acres; there is a 100-year plan in place to expand the cemetery as needed.
“We’ll be open for well over 100 years, with the ability to serve over 22,000 Minnesota veterans and families,” Bonde explained. He added, “A veteran’s spouse can be buried in the same grave. We have 150 pre-placed double-stacked crypts. If there is a veteran and a spouse, whoever dies first would go in first; the veteran or the spouse would go in after and they would be together in their final resting place.” Additionally, the cemetery will welcome cremated remains.
“Since the onset of COVID, we’ve seen cremations go up close to 70% cremated remains compared to 30% traditional casketed remains,” the director noted.
Continuing, Bonde explained that Redwood Falls currently has four different sections, three of them being free for veterans and their spouses: 1. Double-stacked crypts; 2. A place for in-ground urns; 3. A columbarium for above-ground urns; and 4. A private section for veterans whose family would want to purchase their own crypt or their own vault.
Chad Bonde is the son of longtime Brookings residents Brad and Michelle Bonde. Chad was born and raised in Brookings.
He graduated from Brookings High School in 1998. He followed that with “short stint at SDSU (South Dakota State University).” “That prompted me to look for something that offered a little bit more structure,” he explained.
“So in October of 2000, I joined the United States Army and became a cavalry scout.” Following basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Bonde was assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He spent four years on active duty: from October 2000 to November 2004. He later returned to SDSU and graduated in 2013, with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
‘An absolute dream’
“I had met a Minnesota girl when I was in between the Army and finishing up at SDSU again,” Bonde explained of his post-Army odyssey. “Almost two years ago on the nose, we decided to move to Redwood Falls to be closer to her family. The only reason we picked Redwood Falls was because it was halfway in between Brookings and where her family resides.
“About a year ago, last December, she gave me a phone call and said, ‘Chad, you’re not going to believe it. The state of Minnesota is opening up a Veterans Cemetery outside of town (Redwood Falls).’ That was the beginning of the second phase in the adventure of my life.
“It’s been an absolute dream. I’d been looking for a way to reconnect with the veteran community and help veterans. And when this position opened up, I applied and was lucky enough to get a second interview. I’ve been working with the state of Minnesota since the middle of April.”
The director works very closely with the veteran’s family and local funeral homes, coordinating the setting up a “committal service. It’s not a funeral service. It’s really just a service for the military honors. We have about seven minutes for clergy or family to speak. Then we go right into the military honors, with the military rifle squad firing the rifle volley. Then we go into ‘taps.’ Then we have two active duty (service members) from the branch the veteran served in. They fold the flag and present it to the family.”
Bonde’s job requires “working closely with the armed forces to get those two active duty members.” Additionally required is working closely with local veterans organizations: American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Those are the organizations we lean on for the rifle squad and the bugle.”
The director noted that he “has a wonderful cemetery representative who helps me schedule and coordinate everything. Together we run the cemetery and set up those committal services to honor those veterans and their families.”
As to his new position as director, Bonde said, “Outside of actually being in the military, I have never found anything like this that is this satisfying. Every morning I’m excited to get to work and find out what the day holds and what new adventure is ahead.
“I love being a part of a community and it was very difficult leaving Brookings and moving here and not really knowing anyone. The depth of the connection that I’ve been able to make with some of these families in town has been an absolute revelation. I’m satisfied and honored beyond belief.”
With World War II and Korean War veterans being in their 80s and 90s and most of them already gone, veterans of other eras account for more burials.
“I would say right now we’re fully entrenched in our Vietnam veterans and serving them and their families,” Bonde said. “It’s extremely difficult to find a World War II veteran anymore and even those Korean War veterans are getting up there in their young 90s most of the time.”
One of the more rewarding experiences the director had was the recent disinterment of a 20-year-old Marine who had been killed in action in Vietnam and been buried in the Redwood City Cemetery more than 50 years ago. He was reburied in a plot next to his father, who was a World War II veteran.
Contact John Kubal at