Visiting the Stunning Houston National Cemetery and Hemicycle
The grounds are spectacularly beautiful in the Houston National Cemetery. What makes it even more special is the presence of a white hemicycle. In the center of the hemicycle is a lawn where ceremonies are occasionally held.
Soon after entering this 419.2-acre cemetery, one arrives at the buildings pictured below (which serve as administrative offices). When funerals are held, people driving the hearse and all the vehicles bringing family members and friends are told to stop and gather in this area. After everyone has arrived for the ceremony they are escorted from this location to one of several committal shelters scattered throughout the grounds.
A hemicycle is a large semi-circular monument.
- This is only one of three hemicycles in our national cemeteries.
- Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia features another hemicycle memorial that honors women who have served their country in military service.
- The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines is the other one.
Approaching this structure with the tree-lined streets is a pretty sight to behold. My husband and I spent some time walking around this hemicycle. Stairs lead up to the top level where a person can appreciate open-air ceremonies conducted on the lawn in the center from a heightened perspective. Looking out at the national cemetery from that raised viewpoint is also nice.
There are 330 bells in the carillon tower. Each bell was given in memory or in honor of someone or by an interested individual or organization. They are all listed on a plaque attached to the hemicycle near the tower. It must be beautiful to hear them resonating throughout the cemetery when being rung.
Also written on a plaque is the following: "AMVETS (from WWII, Korea and Vietnam) dedicated this carillon as a living Memorial to America's Veterans who served their country honorably for the cause of freedom. Houston National Cemetery March 20, 1994."
Congressman Albert Thomas' Grave Site
The shrubs pictured below surround a very special grave site. Singled out for special recognition is the Honorable Albert Thomas who served as a U.S. Congressman from Texas for almost 30 years. Prior to that, he was a Lieutenant in the Army during WWI. According to a sign posted on the front of the grave, Albert Thomas was also instrumental in getting Congress to approve the establishment of this cemetery.
Special Recognition Grave Sites
At the date of this writing, there are only four other grave sites given special places of honor right outside of the hemicycle in the mall area. They are all medal of honor recipients. First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight, Staff Sergeant Marcario Garcia, and Captain James H. Fields all served during WWII. First Sergeant David H. McNerney saw service in Vietnam. Signs posted near each medal of honor recipient tell a bit about each man.
Receiving a medal of honor means that the person has gone above and beyond what is normally required of them by way of valor when in service to our country. Generally, they are presented the medal of honor by the President of the United States in a special ceremony. Medal of honor recipients and even some of their family members are given special perks.
Houston National Cemetery Chapel
See views of the chapel below. It is such a special site for memorial services. The inside of the chapel is beautiful as these photos portray. The stained glass windows are particularly pretty.
We were recently invited to attend a memorial service of a dear person who is now joining her husband who is already interred in this gorgeous cemetery. My mother and I had known both of these delightful people when we were all volunteers at an assistance ministry in Houston many years ago. We also know several other veterans who are buried here.
Instead of gathering at the administrative offices, we met at the chapel for the memorial ceremony after which the family members went to the grave site. The chapel, as well as the tower with the carillon, are built into the hemicycle and anchor the back end of it.
Pictured below is one of several committal shelters placed in various areas of this national cemetery. Ceremonies are held there prior to the placement of the casket into its permanent location in the ground.
Landscaping and Gravestones
What makes the grounds of this cemetery exceptionally pretty are all of the ponds and wetland areas. Native grasses, wildflowers and wild creatures truly make this a living landscape. Seasonal changes add to the beauty viewed here.
The history of government furnished gravestones is interesting and varied. Upright markers of various types were the norm for a long time with flat ones originating in 1936. Upright ones were again instituted in 1994. Every change through the years has been authorized including what gets engraved upon the headstones. You can read more about the history of government furnished headstones and markers here.
Personally, I think that the upright ones are prettier. They remind me of many soldiers standing at attention.
There are currently 94,903 people buried or interred in this cemetery. Only about half of the land is currently in use. Many more veterans and/or their family members will have their final resting spot in this pretty space. The Houston National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
The location of this spectacularly gorgeous cemetery is just 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston.
Have You Ever Visited the Houston National Cemetery?
Photos Taken on July 4th at the Houston National CemeteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Questions & Answers
Who places the flags on July 4th? How can we help?
Volunteers are needed to place flags at the headstones of people buried in national cemeteries. My suggestion is to contact someone who works at one of these cemeteries, and they should be able to direct you to the right place. In some cases, depending upon where you live, people from American Legion Halls or Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts get involved in doing the placements of the flags. I am sure that they would appreciate your help.
© 2018 Peggy Woods