New director settles in at National Cemetery

David Van Meter, new director of Fort Gibson National Cemetery, shows where new burial sites are being added. He is a native of Poteau. 

Fort Gibson National Cemetery's new director, David Van Meter, says his service in the Army helps him sympathize with veterans' families the cemetery serves.

Van Meter served 16 years before retiring as a master sergeant in 2013. He said he served several deployments in Afghanistan.

"There's many times I talk to people at the cemetery," he said. "Being able to give them my experience, sometimes it's the other loved ones and their families I am able to sympathize more because a lot of times they have other sons or daughters who are having tough times."

Now in his third week at Fort Gibson, Van Meter previously was assistant cemetery director at Natchez National Cemetery in Mississippi. He replaces Bill Rhoades, who retired. 

Van Meter said he plans to take a few months to settle in and learn how things are done at Fort Gibson.

"Hopefully, build upon my experiences and we can streamline the processes and provide an outstanding service to our veteran community," he said.

He comes to Fort Gibson in the midst of an expansion, adding 600 burial sites into six acres. Van Meter said the expansion could finish within the next month. 

"There's another potential of trying to acquire additional land," he said. "You always have to try to be forward thinking and come up with different ways to expand the cemetery."

The expansion could keep Fort Gibson National Cemetery available going until 2030, he said, adding that potential land purchases could add another 10 to 15 years.

Van Meter said the cemetery staff seeks to provide a good experience for veterans' families.

"We have several workers here, their primary focus is to interact with families," he said. "Our business is very customer-service oriented, so any time there is an issue, we immediately try to address it." 

The new director also oversees Fort Sill National Cemetery.

"This cemetery has more volume, a larger staff," he said. "Fort Sill is considered the satellite cemetery. I have an assistant at Fort Sill who oversees things."

Van Meter recalled joining the Army out of a "sense of patriotism."

"Early in life, I realized I wanted to feel like I've done something good to help society, my fellow man," he said. "After I got out of the Army, I realized I wanted to get back and help veterans and be part of the community."

After getting out of the Army, he did contracting work overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It got to be hard on our family, being gone 90 days and coming home for a couple of weeks, then going back," he said. 

He took a position as caretaker of the Fort Smith National Cemetery in Arkansas.

"It was 12 minutes from my house," he said. "It was really nice to establish our roots a little better."

Van Meter and his wife are from Poteau. They dated in high school and both graduated in 1974, he said. They have family in the area.

He spent two years in Fort Smith and served a year as assistant director at the Natchez National Cemetery. 

Meet David Van Meter

AGE: 45.

HOMETOWN: Poteau.

EDUCATION: Poteau High School, class of 1994.

MILITARY SERVICE: 16 years in Army, active duty and National Guard, retiring as master sergeant.

PROFESSION: Director Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

FAMILY: Wife, Stephanie; one son; three stepsons.

HOBBIES: Restoring older cars and trucks, hunting, fishing, playing guitar.

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