While it is largely known that Fort Gordon is home to thousands of people, what’s lesser known is that it is also home – and the final resting place – for hundreds more.
There are 660 physically documented graves spread across 44 known family cemeteries on the installation, but the actual number of people buried may be higher.
“Unfortunately, that [number] does not account for any graves that are unmarked,” said Renee Lewis, Fort Gordon cultural resource manager, Environment Division. “We do have a few cemeteries that are historically known to have [graves] present, but the graves are not marked.”
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of one family and Fort Gordon authorities, one of the previously unmarked graves now has a stone – and a story of historic proportions beneath it.
A daughter’s promise
Margaret Workman, of Roswell, Georgia, said that her father presented her with three undertakings before he passed away. The first was to stay close to their Georgia relatives (most of her family lives in Utah), the second was to find her great-grandfather’s clock, and the last was to locate and mark her great-grandparents’ graves.
Based on insight her father shared and knowledge of a great-uncle who served in the military during World War II then settled near then-Camp Gordon, Workman knew she needed to reach out to Fort Gordon.
“He was here when his father and mother died, and he was able to come out and find the land that he’d grown up on and where they were buried, but the money that was supposed to have been left to mark the graves wasn’t there,” Workman explained. “He came back to Utah very distraught and told our grandmother that the graves were never marked.”
Years passed, but unsettled feelings of an unmarked grave grew stronger amongst family members.
Several relatives had been out to the area in the years that followed but lacked success in finding the property because by then all the buildings were gone due to Fort Gordon’s expansion. Then Workman reached out to the Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office and was put in touch with Lewis, who discovered a piece to the puzzle Workman had been missing. It was a letter that her grandmother wrote – and had her uncle’s signature – noting the location of the burial site, which they referred to as Palmer Cemetery.
“Our great-grandmother’s sister was married to a Palmer, and their lands were side-by-side, so the original graves were on the back corner of the Palmer lot, which was adjacent to the Prather lot,” Workman explained. “We started on this long, convoluted search, then we got that information, thanks to [Lewis] … and the rest is in the story.”
Workman and five relatives from Utah traveled to Fort Gordon to mark their loved ones’ grave on July 24. Knowing they were in the correct cemetery but initially not 100 percent sure they were at the exact point of burial, the family received what they believed to be divine confirmation. While leveling the ground for placement of the new marker, the contractor who was digging struck a large flat stone beneath layers of dirt.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t already believe we were in the right place, but finding there was a temporary-something put there … it was like the icing on the cake,” Workman said.
After the marker was placed, the family gathered for a special family ritual of hymn singing, a moment of silence, and prayer.
Preston Richey, one of Workman’s brother’s, said that although insignificant to some, seeing the marker get put in place was a momentous experience for him.
“It’s just a little thing, but it means everything,” Richey said. “You can’t forget the people that have gone before you, and I think that in this country, as a whole, people are forgetting.”
Despite years of determination and heartache along the way, Workman said she doesn’t harbor any hard feelings about the wait; only peace.
“We are convinced that there is a reason it took the time it took because we learned so many things from the family who are now gone that we never would have learned if we had found that letter a long time ago,” she said. “It’s been a great story for the family to put this all together.”
All of the family cemeteries pre-date Fort Gordon, which was originally named Camp Gordon and established as a World War II training camp in 1941. The oldest known cemetery is the Palmer family cemetery, where the oldest grave dates back to 1827.