Cemetery director returns to familiar area

Published 12:11 am Friday, December 19, 2014

Mark Polen, a 13-year U.S. Air Force veteran, is the new Natchez National Cemetery assistant director. Polen joined the National Cemetery Administration in December 2007 at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery as a cemetery representative. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Mark Polen, a 13-year U.S. Air Force veteran, is the new Natchez National Cemetery assistant director. Polen joined the National Cemetery Administration in December 2007 at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery as a cemetery representative. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Natchez National Cemetery assistant director and Pittsburgh native Mark Polen wants to bring awareness to his new memorial home.

Polen was named assistant director of Port Hudson/Natchez National Cemetery earlier this year after graduating from a National Cemetery Administration comprehensive cemetery director intern program in St. Louis.

Despite his success in St. Louis, Polen, who has had experience in different cemeteries, has found happiness being on cemetery grounds once again.

“It’s one of those deals, when you get here, you want to get off on the right foot and get things accomplished,” Polen said. “The years that I was in St. Louis, I felt like I was missing something. When I walked through the (Natchez National Cemetery) I felt like I was home again.”

Polen said after being involved in the cemetery field, you learn to deal with grief stricken families.

“Once you’ve had the opportunity to watch a military team perform Taps, it doesn’t take you long to realize that what we do is important for closure for the family,” Polen said. “For me personally, being a veteran, it allows me to honor my fellow veterans.”

Polen served 13-years with the U.S. Air Force where he performed duties as a personnel specialist —— responsible for assignment processing, performance report review and management of the personnel reliability program.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Polen said. “I think that goes for everyone who works here — it’s there way of giving back.”

Aside from overseeing all operations of the cemetery, Polen wants to reach out to the current servicemen and servicewomen and let them know of their home at the cemetery, whenever the time comes.

“When we do outreach, we typically target veteran groups,” Polen said. “But a lot of them, if not all of them, know that the cemetery is here. We need to be talking to those guys and gals that just came back from Afghanistan and Iraq. They’re driving around town, and they’re probably not even aware that they’re probably entitled to be buried here. They deserve it, and they earned the right to be buried here.”

Polen said he doesn’t see his position as a job, but having the ability to offer service to a veteran and his or her family.

“When your dad’s a veteran, when your grandfather’s a world war II veteran, it makes it something you just have to do,” Polen said. “There’s not another job that I would even consider doing.”

Polen joined the National Cemetery Administration in December 2007 at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery as a cemetery representative. He was promoted to program support assistant in February 2010, where he was responsible for budget, purchasing, special ceremonies and outreach activities.

Prior to joining the National Cemetery Administration, Polen worked at the Veterans Health Administration at Wade Park VA Medical Center in Cleveland. From 2003 to 2006, he worked for the Department of Defense Air Force as a civilian computer specialist responsible for 75 computer systems at two libraries in Germany.

Polen earned the Civilian of the Year award at Spangdahelm Air Base in Germany for his work streamlining library systems.