• November 23, 2014

Officials seeking input for memorial garden from local residents

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Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:15 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

Leila Hunt-Willingham doesn't want anyone to forget her little brother, J.D.

Spc. Jason Dean Hunt died Nov. 5 when a gunman opened fire at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center. The 22-year-old was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.

Hunt-Willingham doesn't want anyone to forget the names of the 12 others killed that day, either: Michael Cahill, Juanita L. Warman, Libardo Caraveo, John P. Gaffaney, Russell Seager, Justin DeCrow, Amy Krueger, Frederick Greene, Aaron Nemelka, Michael Pearson, Kham Xiong and Francheska Velez.

Hunt-Willingham and her family were among those who attended a planning meeting Friday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center for the proposed Fort Hood Living Memorial Garden.

Initial plans for the three-acre area include an aerated pond, walking trail, gazebo and 13 trees to represent the 13 who died Nov. 5 be placed between the conference center and the Shilo Inn.

Getting people involved

The first planning meeting was Feb. 10, where officials planning the project, led by the Temple-based Czech fraternity SPJST, or Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas, encouraged businesses, schools, churches, youth groups, civic organizations and interested people to get involved.

Officials are also looking for the public's input in the memorial itself.

Artists and representatives from the fraternity, conference center, Killeen City Council, Shilo Inn, Home Depot and the Greater Killeen Young Professionals group attended Friday's meeting.

A landscape artist from Austin, Eleanor McKinney, who worked with conference center officials during the site's original development, gave a presentation about the site for the proposed memorial and led attendees through the design process.

She said planners must decide on details like how much space should be devoted to large, community-gathering areas versus quiet areas for reflection and solace.

Planning process

The Tri-City Lodgers Association is opposed to the proposed memorial's site, and last week its members sent letters to Killeen Mayor Tim Hancock, Senior Planner Beverly Zendt and Councilwoman JoAnn Purser.

A memorial should be placed downtown to spur revitalization, said Bill Stoinoff, the association's president.

No one from the association voiced those concerns at Friday's meeting.

All of the memorial's details are open to discussion, Brian Vanicek, fraternity president, said Friday.

"We just want to make sure it happens," he said of the memorial.

Hancock talked about the Killeen City Council's involvement in the project, saying the conference center's Special Events Committee initially met with the fraternity and agreed to support and look further into the memorial. The council agreed to continue in the information-gathering process, Hancock said.

The committee will next appoint a subcommittee to continue planning. Those plans will be presenting to the Special Events Committee and its members will analyze and amend it if needed, Hancock said. The plans will then be presented to the city council for approval.

Hancock said the planning committee should be made of community members without undue influence. He reminded those in attendance that the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City is "still a hole," because a decision can't be reached on what should go there.

Something must be done, he added, because the "more we wait, the less we get done."

Important project

The memorial proposal means more to the survivors' families than planners may know, Hunt-Willingham said. It will honor not only the victims, but their loved ones.

It upset her that she couldn't remember one name of the 32 who were killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and she didn't want the same to become of her brother or the 12 others.

"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts," she said to those involved in the project.

Hunt-Willingham lives in McKinney and said she would drive three hours to visit the garden and remember her brother. The plans and trees "could represent our literal growth," she said of the victims' loved ones.

"That is the purpose of the garden," Vanicek said.

All agree that the memorial is a good thing and needs to exist, he said later, and he would like to see everyone pulling in the same direction.

Officials will announce a date and time for the next planning meeting.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary. Staff writer Hailey Persinger contributed to this report.

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