The Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial taking shape in Brown County will be World War II centric, because the establishment of Camp Bowie was the most significant wartime event for this area — and also because so many local residents lost their lives fighting in it.
But others will not be forgotten.
“The memorial will be dedicated to all veterans who answered the call to serve,” Dr. Steve Kelly, chairman of the memorial committee, told members of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon Friday. “It is especially dedicated to those from Brown County.
“People have forgotten a lot of that history in the past 70 years,” Kelly said. “Brown County lost 198 men during World War II. That’s an average of one fatality per week over the entire length of the war. We remember how devastating it was when we lost three men in the post-Sept. 11 (2001) era. Imagine how difficult that must have been.”
Kelly said the memorial has plans for 11 separate granite monuments, with four of them listing the names of every Brown County fatality since World War I.
Other monuments will provide details of the two “lost battalions” in Europe and the Pacific that had Camp Bowie connections; the history of the “fighting” 36th Division that was mobilized as a Texas National Guard unit at Camp Bowie in late 1940; a biography of Gen. Fred L. Walker who commanded the 36th Division through some of the most brutal fighting in Europe; the history of Camp Bowie itself; a biography of Charles E. “Commando” Kelly of the 36th Division who was the first to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II; and a centrally-placed marker honoring all veterans who have served their nation.
Other plaques are planned to honor the memory of World War II fighter ace and Brownwood native Col. Jack Bradley, and to document the lone surviving part of the 100-foot flagpole that towered over the Camp Bowie parade grounds. The monument and park will be located on a portion of the former parade grounds that covered 629 acres.
“We’ve taken out a loan at a bank, which is the military equivalent of burning a bridge behind you,” Kelly told the chamber of commerce audience. “There’s no turning back.”
Kelly said the memorial committee has partnered with the Brownwood Civic Improvement Foundation, so contributions can be tax-deductible as allowed by law. Donations may be mailed to the Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial at Citizens National Bank, P.O. Box 1629, Brownwood, TX 76804.
Those who donate $5,000 or more will receive a custom, commemorative Bowie knife. Only 40 will be made.
The monuments will be placed in a semi-circle at the municipally-owned park across the street from Brownwood Regional Medical Center, and near the Veterans Outpatient Clinic on Memorial Park Drive. Now known as the 36th Division War Memorial Park, the area features several static displays of military equipment.
“The 11 markers will be placed in a 75-foot circle, and there will be 850 feet of walking trails, with a spur to go to the hospital,” Kelly said.
Kelly outlined a series of historical facts related to the events and individuals the markers will commemorate, but dwelled mostly on the stories of heroism exhibited by Brown County residents who served, and others who trained at Camp Bowie during World War II. However, he also paid tribute to those lost during other conflicts.
“Brown County lost 39 during World War I,” Kelly said, “but 26 of them were from disease. It was just a disaster.” Uprooted from comfortable Central Texas, those soldiers succumbed to illnesses like flu and dysentery after they were ordered to Europe.
The names of eight county residents who died in Korea, 11 who died in Vietnam, and three who died in battle since Sept. 11, 2001, will also be listed along with those who died during World War II — a total of 259.
Kelly also showed several minutes of a documentary about the 36th Division’s invasion of San Pietro, directed by John Huston using video shot during actual battles. The complete film and others are available for viewing at the Brown County Museum of History downtown.