Once a farming community, Killeen, Texas, has grown to 145,000 people mainly because it’s home to Fort Hood. It has become a service community that lacks charm but has every chain store imaginable. Fort Hood is mainly a training facility with its own population of about 40,000 that includes army personnel in training and the people training them. They need off base stores for fun and entertainment. There are lots of fast food options on base. The main reason for visiting Killeen, for now, is to go on this base to visit 2 so-so regimental museums. It’s a rather arduous process to gain entry to them for travelers just passing through. This will hopefully change in about 2 years.
Fort Hood wasn’t built until 1942 when World War II was happening and a post for testing tank destroyers was needed. Sixteen years later its most famous trainee, Elvis Presley, arrived for about half a year. I was also told that Joe Lewis trained here, but I didn’t have the foresight to ask it this was the prizefighter or the kickboxer. The director of the Fort Hood Museums, Steven Draper, gave Ruth & me time and toleration while telling us about the museums future plans and providing us with information about Fort Hood that was helpful. Fort Hood has grown to be the largest active-duty US military base in the world and the largest employer in Texas. Its stated job is to maintain a constant state of readiness for combat missions.
The larger of the 2 museums tells the story of the 1st Cavalry Division in considerable detail. By 1942 troopers on horseback were becoming obsolete. The 1st Cavalry Division dated from 1921 and operated out of Fort Bliss with headquarters in El Paso as the 1st’s mounted force patrolled the Texas-Mexico border. The Pacific Theater of World War II required a different type of training, and their mission changed to jungle and amphibious survival. It did not see combat until 1944 when its beach-storming actions resulted in 7,000 Japanese casualties. The 1st’s inductees were soon fighting in the Philippines and receiving Medals of Honor. After the war, the 1st spent 5 years in Japan on occupation duty. This was followed by action in Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There is information about all of these with a special focus on Viet Nam. Outside there are many decommissioned vehicles and planes. I asked Draper which one I should focus on and he told me that the Huey helicopters were the most popular because older visitors remember them from news reports out of Viet Nam. I was more impressed by the insect-like Skycrane.
The other and smaller museum is about the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. It has artifacts beginning with the regiment’s founding in 1846 with action in the Mexican War up to the present’s war on terror. There are displays about Indian Wars, The Spanish American War, and more. There are some beautiful regimental standards like the ones above and below along with lots of weapons and uniforms.
To get into Fort Hood for now is difficult. Ruth & I had to acquire visitor cards that are good for a year by providing our driver’s licenses, our rental car papers, insurance info, and a social security number. Within 2 years, if current plans are realized, there will be an off-base museum that replaces the 2 current museums. Called the National Mounted Warrior Museum, it will be located outside this base’s security perimeter near the current Marvin Leith Visitors Center.