Surrounded by the names of 259 Brown County heroes who have died in wartime military service, and inspired by the memory of the World War II victory in Europe exactly 72 years earlier, officials with the Lower Colorado River Authority presented a grant of $22,860 to the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Camp Bowie on Monday.
“Brown County is in our service area, and we like to give back,” Phil Wilson, general manager of LCRA and a native of Brownwood, said in making the presentation. “This will make the memorial ever so more complete.”
“The memorial is not done, but it’s almost there,” Dr. Steve Kelly, president of the Veterans Memorial Committee, told an appreciative audience.
Kelly said the grant will allow the memorial committee to complete several projects that will make the site more convenient and attractive for visitors.
The park is off Memorial Park Drive, not far from the veterans outpatient clinic and Brownwood Regional Medical Center, and next to the 36th Division War Memorial Park. It overlooks the vast acreage where soldiers preparing to fight overseas during World War II trained some 75 years ago.
The tablets and other plaques honor not just the dead, but also veterans of all wars since World War I.
In turn, Kelly presented Wilson with a commemorative Bowie knife, the gift of appreciation the Veterans Memorial Committee extends to any donor of $5,000 or more.
“This is so moving,” Wilson said, standing among the 12 granite monuments erected in a 75-foot circle. “In times of war, they said, ‘Here am I, send me.’ This memorial is here so people can come and read their names. They believed that some things are bigger than ourselves. The future is guaranteed because of people like these.”
The tall markers not only list the names of the war dead from Brown County since World War I, but also provide details of the heroism of military officials and units that distinguished themselves during World War II. That is the era when Camp Bowie grew to be the largest military training facility in the nation.
“The dedication and sacrifice of members of our armed forces is inspirational and deserves our highest praise,” Wilson said. “We at LCRA are honored to help fund the completion of a monument to these brave heroes. It’s especially meaningful to have the monument here, where so many trained to defend our nation.”
A half-mile concrete walking trail will include a water fountain and benches.
“The memorial is so important to Brown County,” Kelly said. “It not only preserves a rich history within our community, it also honors all veterans, especially the 259 veterans from Brown County who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
Kelly said that the total of 198 from Brown County who died during World War II represents one fatality a week — among the highest rates of any county in the nation.
The committee will use the LCRA community grant to complete electrical work and lighting, and install benches, landscaping and drip irrigation at the site, Kelly said. He expects the work to be completed before for the opening of the Vietnam Moving Wall traveling exhibit, scheduled to be on display at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial June 8-12.
For decades, various community groups and veterans in Brown County worked to raise funds and get traction for the memorial, but there were numerous setbacks. Among those early initiatives is a commemorative brick project, which has been incorporated into the memorial. Bricks honoring all veterans remain available for a $200 donation, and information is available from Col. Tom Gray (retired) at (757) 254-6229.
The Central Texas Veterans Memorial Committee re-formed in late 2015, and the project quickly gained momentum. It was dedicated on Veterans Day last year.
“So many tenacious people worked on this project over the years,” Kelly said. “To see it finally come to fruition is just incredible.”
Older stone memorials honoring county residents killed in World War I and World War II have been relocated from former locations at the old Brownwood High School campus (now Family Services Center) and Coggin Park.
The grant is one of several recently awarded through LCRA’s Community Development Partnership Program. The program provides economic development and community assistance grants to cities, counties, volunteer fire departments, regional development councils and other nonprofit organizations in LCRA’s electric and water service areas. The program is part of LCRA’s effort to give back to the communities it serves.
Applications for the next round of grants are due July 31. More information is available at lcra.org/cdpp.