Houston National Cemetery Stunning Beauty with Hemicycle
The grounds are spectacularly beautiful in the Houston National Cemetery. What makes it even more special is the presence of a white Hemicycle surrounding a lawn in the center of the structure.
We recently were 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.
Soon after entering this 419.2 acre cemetery one arrives at the buildings pictured above and below which serve as administrative offices. When funerals are held, 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.
In our case we simply 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 carrillon are built into the Hemicycle and anchor the back end of it. Approaching this structure with the tree lined streets is a pretty site to behold.
The shrubs pictured above and 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 to the front of the grave Albert Thomas was also instrumental in getting Congress to approve the establishment of this cemetery.
At the date of this writing there are only 4 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. To read more about what this special honor entails, click on this link.
This was the view above from the parking lot for people visiting the chapel or wishing to get a closer look at the Hemicycle. A Hemicycle is a large semi-circular monument. This is only 1 of 3 Hemicycles in our national cemeteries. One would have to travel to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia which is now honoring women who have served their country in service with the Hemicycle memorial. The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines is the other one.
Installed above the entrance of the chapel is this bas relief sculpture made of crushed quartz. It measures 20 feet in height by 6 feet in width and portrays a fallen soldier being carried by two of his comrades. A professor of art at Rice University by the name of David Parsons created this touching piece of art.
The inside of the chapel is beautiful as these photos portray. The stained glass windows are particularly pretty.
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.
Pictured below is one of several committal shelters placed in various areas of this national cemetery. Ceremonies are held in them prior to the actual placement of the caskets into their permanent locations.
What makes the grounds of this cemetery exceptionally pretty in my opinion are all of the ponds and wetland areas.
Native grasses, wildflowers and wild creatures truly make this a living landscape which showcases seasonal changes.
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 here.
Personally I think that the upright ones are prettier…just like so 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.