Thirteen American flags were planted in the earth between the Killeen Civic and Conference Center and the Shilo Inn on Monday to remind passers-by of the 13 lives that were lost on Fort Hood three years ago.
The Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting left an indelible mark on many area residents and on the anniversary of that tragic day, the simple 50-foot-wide circle of flags sent a powerful message: The city has not forgotten.
An ad hoc committee, appointed by the Killeen City Council in May 2010 to commemorate the tragedy, arranged for a short ceremony to be held Monday on the same plot of land where the proposed Nov. 5 Memorial pavilion will stand one day.
Around 1 p.m. a small group of residents and media gathered at the site for a moment of silence, watching the flags as they waved gracefully in the wind.
Like many Central Texans, Salado-based artist Troy Kelley, a veteran of the Vietnam War, learned of the events of Nov. 5, 2009, in the gradual flow of information coming out about the shooting and its suspect.
“It was tragedy on tragedy on tragedy,” Kelley said “It was just so unbelievable to find out that this had happened on Fort Hood. It took a long time to process all of it.”
Over the past two years the artist, commissioned by the committee to design and sculpt the memorial’s many features, has been busy researching the lives of the victims for his work.
Kelley and his wife spoke in person or over the phone with all of the victims’ families and many survivors.
He said he began to understand the depth of the tragedy after speaking with a survivor who was narrowly missed by a barrage of bullets from the gunman. The same bullets struck soldiers on either side of her, killing one and wounding another.
“It was just random,” Kelley said. “Just chaos.”
Don Farek, chairman of the memorial committee, said most of all, the shooting had made him feel empathy for the families of the dead, and it brought him to reflect on the losses he had suffered in his own life.
“When you look out here, you see that each flag represents a single human being, a husband, a father. ... It brings out that life is short and life is precious,” Farek said.
The committee has raised approximately one-third of the funds for the proposed memorial, which will include a 50-foot-wide concrete pavilion centered by a 70-foot-tall flagpole. The pavilion will feature bronze sculptures of objects from the victims’ lives and a marble pyramid with a description of the event and the names of the 32 wounded.
Farek said he hopes the community will come together to fund the project and ensure the tragedy of Nov. 5, 2009, will not be forgotten.
“I hope Killeen hasn’t put it in the past,” Farek said. “We need support from our citizens.”