The year was 1995. An Army buddy and I were on our way back to the barracks of Fort Hood after a weekend of partying in Austin.
We were traveling on the usual route — Texas Highway 195 — approaching Killeen, when my buddy pointed to a hill.
“When I die, I want to be buried on top of that hill,” he said, half serious.
Interestingly, that hill is now adjacent to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, overlooking the final resting place of nearly 5,000 former Army soldiers, other service members and spouses.
The cemetery opened in 2006. I wasn’t living in this area when it was built, but I do have to say this: The planners could not have picked a better spot.
This little area of Central Texas we call home is overflowing with veterans. It’s just plain common sense that we have an official veterans cemetery here.
I have been to the cemetery on a couple of occasions and I used to drive by it twice a day when I lived in Florence. It’s always clean, well-kept, and even a bit majestic when the sky is just the right color and the cemetery’s flag is flying with crisp snaps in the Texas air.
My most memorable experience at the cemetery was a funeral I attended last year.
It was a service for Robert Clyde Varley, who enlisted in the Army in 1971, and was stationed at a guard post along the border between West and East Germany during the Cold War.
After the Army, Varley — like many veterans — drifted from job to job and place to place, often finding himself homeless for one reason or another.
When he died, in September 2012, no one claimed his body for three weeks.
With help from organizations that look out for veterans, Varley’s body made it to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery with an escort of 20 Patriot Guard Riders. Cemetery officials lowered the flag to half-staff for the day, and Varley’s funeral was orderly, disciplined and permanent — a stark difference from his vagabond life.
Nearly 60 new graves are added to the cemetery each month, and officials say the cemetery has a capacity for 75,000 graves. Adjacent to Fort Hood land, the cemetery could easily expand to take in more graves.
It’s a tranquil place, and I wouldn’t mind being buried there.
One thing is for sure: I’d be in good company.