By Jimmie Ferguson
Killeen Daily Herald
Many local veterans Wednesday were short on words but long on gratitude.
Its beautiful, said Vietnam veteran Keith Soll, 64, of Killeen. I cant imagine how it will look when the sun (sets).
Soll was among more than 1,000 veterans, their families and distinguished guests who had traveled from the White House, the State Capitol, county seats and local city halls for the dedication ceremony of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Like many other veterans and survivors, Soll is saving his wifes remains to be buried in the veterans cemetery that sits south of Killeen off State Highway 195 near the intersection of Chaparral Road. Burials at the cemetery should begin in December.
Jerry Patterson, chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, pointed out that the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery is the first of seven state veterans cemeteries to be constructed in Texas.
It will be run by the Texas Veterans Land Board but was constructed with dollars from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Patterson, who hosted the ceremony.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III called this 174 acres of land an honor to the men and women of the military and to their devotion and to their protection of the country.
Part of my pleasure of being here, frankly, is personal because my father and I both served in the military, Baker said.
Baker said there are a lot of things that can be said about Texans, but one definite thing is that they take care of those who take care of them.
Thats how it should be because we do, after all, have a collective duty to assist those who answered the patriotic call, said Baker, noting the cemetery was created by a coordinated effort of local, state and federal officials. This should provide proof that government works best when government works together ... when everyone works together.
This cemetery represents more than a job well done, Baker said. This tranquil resting place for our soldiers is a collection, and will be a collection of individuals stories of dedication.
Ladies and gentlemen, the corner of Fort Hood represents a lot more than a plot of Texas hardscrabble, where soldiers can be peacefully laid to rest, Baker said.
Baker said the cemetery represents freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy and hope. The men and women who will be interned here should be remembered for their dedication to just such ideas, he added.
To the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces today and to the veterans, Gov. Rick Perry said he offered the deepest gratitude of the 22 million Texans who are proud to call them their countrymen.
Thank you for what you do in the pursuit of freedom around the world, Perry said. Thank you for answering the highest call of this country.
Perry said every year, millions of Americans visit Omaha Beach, France and other veterans cemeteries across the world and are pleased with greater understanding of the true value and true cost of freedom.
That is why the dedication of this first Texas State Veterans Cemetery is such a momentous occasion, Perry said. Because on these grounds, we have established a dignified, honorable ... home for our heroes, who are the epitome of dignity and honor and creating a living memorial to their character and courage.
May these sacred grounds may always be quiet. May the brave soldiers who sleep here find eternal peace and surpasses the worldly peace they fought for, the governor said.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said as he was approaching the cemetery in a line of traffic that delayed the hourlong ceremony for 15 minutes, he said he saw a hawk sailing on the Texas breeze.
It was beautiful sight to see as you come upon the cemetery, Carter said. I looked at that and I thought, that was very symbolic of what we are doing here today.
We are consecrating hallow ground here where we are going to lay heroes of the United States of America to rest, Carter said. And what a glorious place to do that. All those who visit here will be able to look out over these beautiful hills and see things like that hawk sailing in that Texas breeze and realize the presence of God in this place and the protection he gives to our heroes.
Carter said as he looked out in the audience into the faces of the many veterans who were so glad to have the veterans cemetery there, it was as much gratifying as the sight of the hawk.
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, said they dedicated this field of honor not just as a memorial to the dead, but as a monument to the living.
Future generations of young and old who visit here will be forever reminded of the enduring price of our individual freedom and our nations security.
As from Flanders Fields, the brave who will be buried here will speak to us that each generation of Americans is called anew to hold high the torch of freedom, Edwards added.
The visitors were also addressed by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; and state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville each of whom, along with State Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, were responsible for the passage of the Texas legislation that made the cemetery possible.
Killeen Mayor Maureen Jouett gave special thanks to Theron Johnson and the late Tom Roberts, who ignited the fire to get the veterans cemetery started.
But this veterans cemetery is a culmination of one seed that was planted in a joint effort in probably everyone in the audience, said the mayor as she welcomed everyone to the ceremony. So, we are eternally grateful and very blessed in our community.
Jouett said when the city initially started talking about the cemetery, Gen. Leon LaPorte, then-commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, said it was a beautiful place.
And as you see, it is a very beautiful, beautiful place, she said.
Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, the deputy commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said it was honor for him to represent the nearly 48,000 soldiers and their families at Fort Hood.
The general said 20 percent of those soldiers are currently deployed in Iraq, and the 4th Infantry Division was in its final stages of returning to the war-torn country.
By the first of January next year, nearly 65 percent of III Corps will once again be joined in the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, Simmons said.
This is important ... the creation of this cemetery is important for the soldiers and their families at Fort Hood, Simmons said. And it is indeed an honor for me to be here today.
This ground, Simmons said, that was formerly part of Fort Hood will now serve as a final resting place for those who have served this nation with honor.
It took a lot of hard work to make this cemetery a reality, Simmons said. It was work that needed to be done, and I commend those who made it all come together.
Those who have served and those who are currently serving have earned the privilege of a final resting place on this beautiful site, the general said.
Contact Jimmie Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org