Fort Cavazos community visits graves, pays respects

By Shawn Davis, Fort Cavazos Public AffairsMay 30, 2024

Two wooden crosses stand in among tall, thin grass with green brush in the background. To the left, a small stone statue in the shape of a person bending over a cross sits.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A memorial at Fort Cavazos' Owl Creek May 26, 2024, gives remembrance to the tragic loss of nine Soldiers during a flash flood on June 2, 2016. The small, impromptu memorial serves to honor comrades lost in the training accident and let Soldiers, families and friends pay their respects. (Photo Credit: Photo by Shawn Davis, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL
Stone headstones of various shapes and sizes sit in rows over a large area of grass.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Graves are well kept and even decorated across the cemeteries on the training ranges May 26, 2024, at Fort Cavazos, Texas. Families, Directorate of Public Works employees and volunteering Soldiers maintain and watch over the graves in between visits to properly preserve them. (Photo Credit: Photo by Shawn Davis, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas  Every Sunday before Memorial Day, a somber silence holds the training ranges at Fort Cavazos still; May 26 was no exception, as the muddied ranges of the installation gave way to families who wished to visit the generations of old buried at the cemeteries on post.

Robert Perrow, a range operations specialist and U.S. Army veteran, drove through the mud and ponds dotting the gravel roads that intersect with Range Road, checking up on each cemetery, each one with an American flag at the entrance and a sign to mark them. Some of the tombstones within mark the first settlers of the Republic of Texas, others for families who have rooted themselves in the Central Texas area.

Blanchard, an old family name in the area joins together in death with the likes of the Farmers, the Dyers and the Prices. The cemeteries are named after the former communities and some of the prominent families that occupied where the training range now sits.

Shane Blanchard pays his respects alongside his father Billy, who was born in 1944, a couple years after Fort Cavazos, then named Camp Hood, began its mission to train Soldiers to fight and win the nation’s war.

“Our great, great, great, great grandfather started off our Blanchards in Texas,” Shane said. “They come from Tennessee, are buried at Bethel (Cemetery), and we have other aunts, uncles (and) cousins mainly buried at Bethel (Cemetery).

“This is the only time we’re allowed to come out here in the impact zone all year so we always try to come out here and pay our respects to our family,” Shane added. “It’s our heritage. This is our family but, like I said, this is the only time you can come out here and pay respects, and it’s very important to see the flags, to see that they’ve mowed (the cemetery). You know, that says a lot about our government looking out for us, and we appreciate that.”

Perrow drives through the ranges often to make sure everything is in order. For example, he’ll occasionally find equipment left behind from training, but this time the primary concern was families getting stuck in the heavy mud from the influx of rain over the past weeks. He braved low crossings of mud and water channels to visit the cemeteries with his four-wheel-drive truck.

A headstone sporting a stone heart at the top encrusted with small stones and seashells sits in an open area of grass.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A headstone of a fallen Soldier sits in a flat area of grass at one of the many cemeteries sitting on the training ranges May 26, 2024, on Fort Cavazos, Texas. (Photo Credit: Photo by Shawn Davis, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL
A metal gate that connects to a fence with barbed wire running on top sits behind a slightly shorter sign.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Ruth Cemetery is marked with an American flag overlooking the horizon from one of the higher points of the Edwards Plateau May 26, 2024, at Fort Cavazos, Texas. This is one of the many cemeteries on the ranges of Fort Cavazos preserved for the families whose roots go beyond that of the installation. (Photo Credit: Photo by Shawn Davis, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Visiting the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Gayla Gould used the words “reverent” and “appreciative” to describe the experience. She and her husband, Steve, were paying respects to her great-grandparents and great-uncle. She recalled stories she heard from her uncle of the times he spent growing up in Texas with them. It’s an intimate image of church gatherings and treats of old-fashioned soda.

“The people we lay flowers for, they’re dead,” Gould said, “… We do this for ourselves, but still, it gives you a good feeling to see them. The upkeep that the Army does, that upkeeps the cemeteries… especially the ones over the impact zones — they get a lot of shakes, its good.”

The cemeteries dotting the northern ranges of Fort Cavazos are maintained by a mixture of volunteering Soldiers, on-post directorates and descendants of those buried. While the cemeteries in the “red line,” or on or near high impact training areas, are prohibited from visitation except for this Sunday, the ones outside are free for visitation during daytime hours. The Gould family planted artificial flowers that last longer and decorated the headstones of their family.

A gleam reflects off a black, polished headstone at the Walker cemetery, and Perrow is reminded of the fact there are still loved ones being buried at these cemeteries. The tombstone of Kyle J. Tennison of Gatesville, Texas, who died at 16 years, marks his final place of rest next to his grandparents. A spot is reserved for the parents who survive him. It’s the younger ones who get to him, he said, as there are also tombstones for children who passed in infancy in these cemeteries.

There are efforts made to honor Soldiers from the area, too, in these cemeteries. A Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd, who had passed in the Battle of the Bulge, lies in Bethel Cemetery, his tombstone still in the process of being made to this day. Veterans of all wars who paid the ultimate sacrifice were returned to their loved ones in these cemeteries, and the installation continues to honor them and their families with remembrance.