Hundreds of veterans, accompanied by friends or family members, joined elected leaders Wednesday in celebrating the dedication of the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery in northwest Corpus Christi.

The event coincided with the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a date organizers selected in order to give veterans a chance to turn a solemn occasion into one of celebration.

"We are here today to consecrate this land for our Texas veterans," Jerry Patterson, chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, said. "Today, this site becomes hallowed ground in honor of their sacrifices."

The cemetery sits on 54 acres of land along Carbon Plant Road and Interstate Highway 37 that was donated by Flint Hills Resources in 2008. Wednesday's celebration capped years of work put into the project by local, state and federal officials to make the cemetery a reality for the county's nearly 58,000 veterans.

Statewide, there are 1.7 million veterans, 600,000 of whom are 65 or older, according to figures from the Texas General Land Office.'

There are three other Texas State Veterans Cemeteries, located in Killeen, Mission and Abilene. In addition, there are four Veterans Affairs national cemeteries in Texas, located in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso.

Officials said the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery will be developed in phases and, upon completion, will hold more than 31,500 grave sites. The first phase will create 4,808 grave sites.

To ascertain eligibility for burial in the cemetery, visit the VA Web site at www.cem.va.gov/eligible.htm.