As a small child I lived on Clark AFB, Philippine Islands. Outside the base there was a large field with rows and rows of small white crosses. World War II was still very much on my parents’ minds and I remember my Mother very awkwardly trying to explain to me what the crosses represented. Many years later I would understand that each cross was the burial place of a US serviceman who had given his life in the war.
While the exact origins of Memorial Day are sketchy, since 1866 there have been ceremonies honoring the military men and women who gave their lives in service to our country and the decorating of their graves with flowers and flags. It wasn’t until 1971 that Congress officially declared May 31st as Memorial Day.
I had visited Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery several years ago and returned this week for another visit. Pictures do not capture the full extent of the impact of the cemetery.
For several hours after I left I felt that while there I had entered another world, perhaps another dimension in a way. I was struck by the significance of each marker as well as the hushed serenity that settled over the cemetery. It was a fitting way to prepare for the Memorial Day weekend. Since then I’ve enjoyed finding out a little about the history of the cemetery.
Fort Sam Houston created a Post Cemetery in 1924 with the first burial taking place there in 1926. In 1931 the War Department transferred slightly more than 60 acres that included the Post Cemetery to serve as an annex to the San Antonio National Cemetery where military burials had been taking place since 1867. It was small and running out of burial space with no adjacent land for expansion. The original plan for FSH’s Post Cemetery had been for it to become a National Cemetery and in 1937 the War Department renamed the former annex as Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
Subsequent land acquisitions increased the size of the cemetery to 338 acres. With only 200 of those acres being developed the cemetery will be able to support burials for many years to come. As of 2020 there are over 160,000 people buried on the property. I have not been able to find a breakdown as to how many are U.S. military personnel, spouses, and other eligible dependents (just to note: spouses are buried in the same plot and share a marker). In addition, a “POW Section” holds the remains of 141 World War II POW’s who had been temporarily interred in POW camps and relocated to the cemetery for permanent burial in 1947.
Fort Sam Houston Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016; all national cemeteries and all structures located within their boundaries are considered as significant and eligible for listing in the NRHP.
As we enjoy Memorial Day 2021, let us remember those who gave their lives in service to our country and for those who served in peace times and are now resting in peace.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.