Fort Hood opened its gates, Sunday, for legacy families to visit the final resting place of their loved ones, view historic graves or pay respects to veterans who are buried within one of the 20 cemeteries on the installation.

In early 1942, the government acquired 41 communities and settlements in southwestern Bell and southeastern Coryell counties for a large training center, which was officially established as Camp Hood on September 18, 1942. The families who once lived in those communities and settlements moved and settled in other areas, becoming prominent residents in other cities.

“The Army, when they acquired the land, they acquired the cemeteries themselves,” Tim Buchanan, chief of Fort Hood’s Natural and Cultural Resources, explained. “The commanding general, at the time, formally stated that Camp Hood would care for the cemeteries. We’ve been maintaining them since.”

Fort Hood’s annual Memorial Day tradition allows legacy families and visitors to enter the installation’s live-fire area and visit the cemeteries on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

“My granddad, this is where he wanted to be buried because he was raised here his whole life,” Gatesville resident Denver Tippit said. “If my dad chooses to be buried here, this is probably where I’ll be buried too.”

The Tippit family visited the graves of his grandparents at Pleasant Grove Cemetery, located at North Fort Hood, and added additional dirt to the grave of their grandmother, who passed away in February. After a burial, air pockets inside the recently excavated dirt cause the tops of graves to partially sink, especially after rainfall, as the ground resettles.

Sunshine Tippit-Buckner, Denver’s younger sister, said the family has several family members buried at Hubbard Cemetery, a large cemetery located in the middle of the training areas, which is where their family originally came from, before Fort Hood was established.

After adding dirt to their grandmother’s grave, Sunshine placed a homemade wreath at the headstone. Sunshine and her sister, Kay Tippit-Hunt, decorated the wreath with baking utensils, such as an old whisk, a rolling pin, grater and other utensils. Kay said her grandmother Ann was a great cook who was known to always be ready to feed a crowd.

“Even if you weren’t hungry, you were gonna eat,” she said.

Denver said he hopes Fort Hood continues honoring this Memorial Day weekend tradition because a lot of families of those buried on the installation still live in the area.

“It’s very important for us to come out,” Denver said about the legacy visits. “This is very important, not just for our family, but for a lot of families.”

Buchanan said all the cemeteries are enclosed in a chain-link fence, which is designed to keep the cemetery intact, primarily the headstones, from training or cattle grazing. He said his office maintains a partial inventory of the graves, based on carvings from the stones themselves.

“Some of them are not completely legible,” he added.

Fort Hood is the final resting place of several Confederate Army Soldiers, but also has graves dating back before the Civil War, which have deteriorated over time.

He said Find a Grave, findagrave.com, maintains a record of graves across the country. Digital images of individual headstones, when present, are also pictured on the website. He said the website is good for people researching their family tree.

Michael Smith, range operations officer with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said the visitation day is always popular with families trying to locate an ancestor buried at one of the cemeteries.

Smith said two of the cemeteries that are maintained by Fort Hood have a Historic Texas Cemetery designation – Pleasant Grove Cemetery and Ruth Cemetery. The designation deems the cemetery worthy of preservation. Smith said a cemetery is eligible for the designation if it is at least 50 years old and deemed worthy for its historical associations.

Smith said he believes Fort Hood will continue to maintain the cemeteries and open the gates for legacy visits for as long as Fort Hood stands.