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Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams lends support to Lubbock's push for veterans cemetery

Aug 14 2021
Adam Young | Lubbock Online

World War II Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams' three-day mission to Lubbock to help honor Gold Star families and veterans ended with a call to action.

The 97-year-old retired Marine Corps Warrant Officer who received the U.S. Military's highest honor for his heroism while serving in the Pacific during WWII lent his voice Friday morning to a growing chorus calling for the creation of a veterans cemetery in the Hub City.

Williams is a West Virginia native who has spent decades advocating for veterans, fallen soldiers and their families. That's included working with local organizers to develop memorials to Gold Star families around the country - such as Lubbock's recently unveiled Monument of Courage at 84th Street and Nashville Avenue.

In this latest effort, Williams joined officials with the city of Lubbock, retired military and state leaders, the area VFW branch and the Chapter 0900 Military Order of the Purple Heart during a news conference at what they hope could be the site of the proposed cemetery just off East 50th Street near East Loop 289.

"They are very important to the families who lose a relative, so I hope you are successful," Williams said, urging citizens to call their state lawmakers and federal lawmakers to advocate for a cemetery.

But the advocates and lawmakers including State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, acknowledge there's work to be done.

And, they said, it will take time, dealing with state and federal politicians and bureaucrats along the way.

"This probably isn't a three-year deal, more of a 20-year initiative, but we're working on it," Perry said.

Williams and Lubbock area veterans advocates including Danny Koch have said having a veterans cemetery deeper into West Texas and the Panhandle/South Plains region would make the service more accessible to veterans and their families as far away as Eastern New Mexico.

Currently, the closest veterans cemetery is near Abilene - about 160 miles away.

It was built in 2009 and is one of five state veterans cemeteries in a system that state leaders more than two decades ago said should have seven.

Perry said the Texas General Land Office has been allocated about $7 million in its budget to support state cemeteries as well as other functions including veterans land programs and support services. As it is, the funding is being used by the existing cemeteries and other services, Perry said, so the funding mechanism isn't straightforward.

There's also competition from other regions, including the city of Tyler, which Perry and Koch said also make a strong case for having a veterans cemetery in far East Texas.

The path forward is uncertain, but there are several options, including pursuing federal funding for what perhaps would be a national veterans cemetery - and Perry said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock, has also been a advocate.

Perry and Koch recalled recently having a productive visit with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

And Friday morning's news conference was hosted on about 33 acres of city-owned farm land that the city has pledged to donate to the cemetery if it comes to fruition.

That would be important, Koch said, as any state or federal veterans cemetery would stand a better chance if there's local funding and investment.

Williams ended his comments with a message of optimism.

He recalled his work helping to advocate for a similar veterans cemetery in West Virginia, overcoming similar obstacles. That one, in the rolling hills and mountains of West Virginia, cost about $14 million to create, he told the crowd.

But, standing behind a podium in the middle of the South Plains farmland, he paused his words briefly as looked around with a smile.

"Your costs will not by anywhere near that much - you've got flat land down here, my goodness," Williams said with a chuckle. "We'd love to have several thousand acres of your land."