In a crisp and clear style Michael Lee Lanning uses his new book, The Veterans Cemeteries of Texas (Texas A&M University, 178 pp.; $29.95, hardcover), to spread the word about what you need to know about those facilities. What applies to Texas’s state and national veterans cemeteries applies to the those in the rest of the states—or it should. The book itself is a compact, user-friendly piece of perfect design and printing.
The introduction explains how burial grounds for veterans are chosen and developed. Lanning goes on to set out the official procedures for interment and practices for continued honoring of the deceased.
The book’s core devotes far more space to six VA-run National cemeteries in Texas than it gives to the four Texas State veterans cemeteries. In Texas, National cemeteries are in the heart of the vast state at distances inconvenient to reach for many of its citizens.
“Over the years,” Lanning says, “the VA has sought to provide sufficient cemeteries across the United States so that there is one within seventy-five miles of every American veteran.”
In 2001, in response to the VA’s goal to provide “special resting places, close to home, where friends, family and fellow Texans can honor Texas veterans,” a statewide election approved a bond for construction of state cemeteries at Killeen, Mission, Abilene, and Corpus Christi. They opened between 2006 and 2010.
National facilities in Texas date back to 1867. They are located in Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio (which has two), Houston, and Kerrville.
In a cemetery-by-cemetery breakdown, Lanning explains the origins, history, and present condition of each one. With short accounts of their lives, he cites notable people buried at each site, emphasizing Medal of Honor recipients. Many of them are native Texans. These accounts include unusual tales about rioters, prisoners of war, and other seemingly undeserving men buried in the cemeteries.
Each cemetery has its own character. San Antonio National Cemetery, for example, has no more space for burials because the city surrounded it. Consequently, it accepts only cremated remains. Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery is the only one in Texas with access to a horse-drawn caisson for funerals of sergeants major and officers. I have walked through that cemetery and attest to the dignity of the facility and its caretakers. Kerrville National Cemetery, the smallest in Texas, operated only from 1923-57 and now is closed for future interments.
Appendices provide rules governing eligibility for burial in National and State cemeteries; emblems of belief for headstones; and floral arrangements. A directory of Texas sites is also included.
Lanning snapped a wealth of photographs for the book. Printed on glossy paper, most of the images reflect the serenity and beauty of the landscapes.
Even for non-Texans, The Veterans Cemeteries of Texas should teach need-to-know knowledge not found elsewhere.
Lee Lanning has written more than twenty military history books, including his two Vietnam War memoirs, The Only War We Had: A Platoon Leader’s Journal of Vietnam, and Vietnam 1969-1970: A Company Commander’s Journal.
A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, he served as a 199th Light Infantry Brigade platoon leader and company commander in the Vietnam War.
His website is michaelleelanning.com