Camp Bowie Site Offers Sacred Spot for Remembrance
By Julie Anderson
“To those men from Brown County who rendered valiant service in the World War. Who feared not; who believed in the sacred principles upon which this republic is founded; who preferred death to slavery; who signified a willingness to give their lives and perpetuate democracy, this monument is reverently dedicated.”
Hundreds listened intently as Dr. Steve Kelly read these words engraved on the World War I granite monument donated by the Brownwood High School Class of 1921, now part of the Central Texas Veterans Memorial located at Camp Bowie’s 36th Division War Memorial Park. The community dedicated the memorial complex on Nov. 11, 2016, exactly 98 years since the end of World War I.
Brown County residents who died during World War I are among the 259 honored at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, a project some 96 years in the making, shared Kelly, president of the Central Texas Veterans Memorial Committee. Kelly was a first lieutenant in the Army from 1969 to 1974; he has served as co-chairman of the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs/Legislative Committee since 1992.
Phase one of the $200,000 memorial project included the relocation, restoration and modernization of the original World War I Memorial and its incorporation into the memorial display at the park. While the complex honors all veterans, special homage is given to the 259 from Brown County who made the ultimate sacrifice from World War I forward, Kelly specified. Brown County lost 39 soldiers in World War I, 198 in World War II, eight in the Korean War, 11 in the Vietnam War, and three after Sept. 11, 2001.
The memorial includes 12 granite tablets around a 75-foot diameter concrete circle. Specifically, the 12 tablets honor:
- All Veterans;
- Brown County’s 259 local heroes with individual names engraved on four tablets;
- Fighting 36th Infantry Division-Texas National Guard, which trained at the memorial site in World War II;
- Camp Bowie;
- Major General Fred Walker – commanding general of the 36th Division in World War II; the memorial represents all officers from Brown County;
- Commando Charles Kelly – The One Man Army, the first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in Europe in World War II; the tablet represents all enlisted men from Brown County, especially those who returned from all wars with post-traumatic stress disorder;
- Lost 36th Division Battalion in the Vosges Mountains of France;
- Lost 36th Division Battalion on Java; and
- Colonel Jack Bradley, Brownwood’s most decorated combat veteran.
The World War I and World War II monuments were moved from their initial sites to the complex, Kelly explained. The World War I stone remained by the high school building for nearly a century, even when the school was closed in 1961 and became the Family Services Center. The monument was moved from behind a bush at the center, while the World War II monument was moved from its original site at Coggin Park; both were originally erected shortly after the two wars ended.
In addition to the granite tablets and monuments, plaques are in place honoring veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kelly detailed. The park also includes static displays of World War II military equipment.
A concrete walking trail just under one-half mile includes a handicapped water fountain and benches for visitors to sit and rest.
The 36th Division Memorial Park is located next to the Brownwood Regional Medical Center and the Brownwood Veterans Outpatient Clinic, all of which are positioned near the former Camp Bowie parade grounds that covered 629 acres.
“Brown County played a vital role in America’s involvement in World War II with the establishment of Camp Bowie in 1940,” Kelly noted. “Camp Bowie represents the most important historical event in Brownwood, and at 123,000 acres was one of the largest military training posts in the country at that time,” he continued.
Efforts to honor those killed in action were initiated in 1921 with the original World War I Memorial. A local business man introduced the idea of a memorial park in 1944; however the project was stalled by the ongoing war. Motivated citizens picked up the idea again in 1998, but lack of funding caused another delay. When Kelly was appointed president of the committee, he led a 14-month effort to complete the first phase of the complex, which was dedicated on Veterans Day 2016.
“We just have to finish it up,” Kelly declared. The committee is trying to raise an additional $50,000 for phase two of the project, which will include a walking trail through the park, landscaping, benches and drip irrigation.
The Brown County Commissioners Court has been very supportive of the memorial, Kelly observed, including the donation of a flag pole to the park.
“We owe these men and women our thanks and gratitude for their service to our country,” said Brown County Commissioner Gary Worley. “The Brown County Commissioners Court is honored to have had a small part in recognizing the brave men and women of our military by donating the flag pole.”
There are still some monuments at the courthouse that could not be moved because of the Texas Historical Commission constraints, Worley noted.
Brown County Judge Ray West attended the ceremony and made brief welcoming remarks on behalf of the county. U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway offered the keynote address.
“Rep. Conaway gave a very moving presentation,” West recalled. “As with any ceremony involving the veterans of this country, the mood was somber; there was a tightening of many throats, increased heart rates, and an overwhelming sense of pride.”
“My father was a Marine during World War II, participating in several actions including Okinawa, and last year my family dedicated a plaque to him at the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, so I have a very acute respect for the veterans of this nation,” West shared.
The Central Texas Veterans Memorial features a monument with 10 emblems showing the seals of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Texas National Guard, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Merchant Marine, U.S. Department of Defense, and the city of Brownwood. The 36th Division’s “T-Patch” sits on top of a pyramid.
This monument describes the purpose of the memorial, “…dedicated to all veterans – active duty, retired, honorably discharged, National Guard and Reserves – living and deceased – who answered the call and served in any branch of our Armed Forces (especially those from Brown County that made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom). We honor all selfless heroes for your courageous service to the United States of America. Your sacrifice is what made this country great. We salute you!”