Eugene Kocmoud visits his wife’s gravesite at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery as often as he can. He said he brings her flowers on her birthday and enjoys being near her.
The couple preregistered for burial when the cemetery opened in 2006, but he figured it would be much later in life before one of them was buried there. His wife, Mary Ann, died in May 2011.
“I have a couple of friends here, too,” said Kocmoud, a 20-year Army veteran who lives in Copperas Cove.
“They keep it really nice,” he said of the cemetery. “It’s tranquil. And there’s always a breeze, which is good in the summertime.”
Settled just outside Killeen on State Highway 195, the veterans cemetery is the final resting place of more than 4,600 veterans and their family members, with 55 to 60 gravesites added each month, said Charles Walden Jr., cemetery director. The Central Texas location is one of four veterans cemeteries operated in the state.
More than 65 percent of those buried are veterans. The wars they fought in range from World War II to the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other percent includes spouses, children and still-born babies of service members.
Aside from a Memorial Day ceremony and the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when the community lays wreaths on each of the grave stones, most visitors are there to see their loved ones.
Walden said he is aware the cemetery is a place no one wants to visit, but his team tries to create a place where people feel comfortable.
“We don’t want them to feel like, ‘It’s a cemetery and we’ve got to be quiet.’ We hope they can have a few happy moments out here,” Walden said. “We honor our veterans here for the price they paid. It’s not a sad place. It’s a place of honor.”
Every day there are visitors to the cemetery, Walden said. Some just make brief stops at a gravesite, while others spend hours in the cemetery.
“We have moms here every day,” he said. “We’re happy to have them out here. They’re really great people, but we wish we’d never met them.”
The most frequent cemetery visitors, he said, are people whose loved ones were killed in action. There are 28 veterans with this distinction buried in the Central Texas cemetery, and a wall in the administration office holds a photo of each one.
Right now, the office’s Christmas tree bears 28 ornaments with the names of each service member. They are men, women, soldiers, airmen and Marines. But Walden, a veteran and grandfather to an active-duty soldier, knows that most importantly, they also were spouses, children and siblings.
Walden is quick to admit he and his team can’t keep the cemetery running without his team of dedicated volunteers. There are currently more than 20 people putting in about 300 hours a month. They answer phones, preregister veterans and direct traffic flow during services.
Randy Brumagim and his wife began volunteering upon retirement from teaching in 2010. He served 26 years in the Army before teaching and said he would still be a soldier today, if his body would let him. Volunteering at the cemetery allows him to continue to honor veterans, he said.
“It’s an area that everybody is going to have to encounter at some point in life. It requires a lot of empathy,” Brumagim said.
He and his wife also are preregistered for burial at the cemetery, along with more than 6,000 other people.
To continue to meet the needs of veterans in Central Texas, the cemetery has the capacity to hold about 75,000 people. Last month, Walden said they opened the expansion to the columbarium. Depending on future expansions on this type of burial, he said the cemetery has the capacity to accommodate 100,000. The cemetery also recently was approved for more double-depth crypts, where couples occupy the same plot.
Sabrina Nicholson’s parents are buried together at the cemetery, and the Killeen resident tries to stop by a couple of times a month to visit them.
“I come out on special occasions, but this is not how I try to remember them,” she said. “I have pictures and I like to look at them to reflect on the memories I have.”