FORT HOOD, Texas - Hundreds of people came this sprawling Central Texas installation, May 30, to honor their ancestors who are buried in one of the 20 legacy cemeteries remaining in the training area here.
In early 1942, the government acquired 41 communities and settlements in southwestern Bell and southeastern Coryell counties for a large training center, which was officially established as Camp Hood on September 18, 1942. The families who once lived in those communities and settlements moved and settled in other areas.
Jamie Swift, range operations specialist, said it was not until he began working with Fort Hood’s Range Operations two years ago, that he realized how old some of the cemeteries on Fort Hood really are.
“A lot of the families are still located in the area. It’s important for them to get in, especially in the live-fire areas that are normally closed.”
Fort Hood opens the installation, including live-fire ranges annually on the Sunday before Memorial Day to allow legacy families and visitors to enter the installation’s live-fire area and visit the cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m 85 years old and have been coming out here my whole life,” Gatesville, Texas resident Doris Berry said about Friendship Cemetery, where the Friendship community once stood. “There’s a grave out there, I was three weeks old and my mom said she brought me to a funeral here.”
While Berry herself was born in nearby Gatesville, she said her mother was born in Friendship and she has family members from both sides of her family buried there, as well as in Walker Cemetery and Spring Hill Cemetery.
With her children and grandchildren in tow, Berry paid respects to her forbearers and shared memories with her family. The family’s genealogy expert, with 12 binders of family history, said she remembers the time before Fort Hood took over maintenance of the cemeteries.
“Used to, when I was young, the families had to come clean the cemeteries themselves,” Berry explained.
She said families would make it an all-day event, bringing food to share for a picnic after cleaning the cemeteries. She said, back then, the cemeteries were not gated, as they are today.
Fort Hood’s Directorate of Public Works shares maintenance of the cemeteries with the people responsible for the live-fire ranges that some of the cemeteries are located within.
“It’s really great the way they’ve taken care of it,” Berry shared. “They do a good job.”
Swift said, for those who know what to look for, they can still see parts of the old homesteads still standing on Fort Hood. He said there are wells and foundations from old homes still standing, holding onto the communities that one stood in place.
“Seeing all the people who come here, a hundred years ago their families lived here and they still have something here,” Swift shared. “I think it’s important to respect that because they were here before us.”
Two of the cemeteries maintained by Fort Hood have a Historic Texas Cemetery designation – Pleasant Grove Cemetery and Ruth Cemetery. The designation deems the cemetery worthy of preservation. Smith said a cemetery is eligible for the designation if it is at least 50 years old and deemed worthy for its historical associations.