Amid the tragedy and election returns of the past week, one bit of news that was overlooked by most is a list of proposed name changes for military bases that honor Confederate soldiers. The name changes are not yet written in stone, but the new release offers some insight into what might be a major change for nine army installations.
You may recall that the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 created the unwieldily named Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America, heretofore referred to as “The Naming Commission.” The Naming Commission was tasked with finding new names for bases whose names commemorate Confederate soldiers in a rare, bipartisan compromise.
In a statement accompanying the recommendations, Admiral Michelle Howard (USN, Retired) said that the commission’s goal was to find “names and values that underpin the core responsibility of the military, to defend the Constitution of the United States. We wanted names and values that evoke confidence in all who serve. Confidence that by emulating those whose names are on the installations, we too can rise to every challenge, overcome every obstacle, achieve excellence, and, if necessary, sacrifice our lives for this country and her people.”
I agree that it is time to remove the Confederate names. As a Civil War buff and the descendant of Confederate soldiers, I understand that many Confederate leaders were good men in many respects as well as brilliant tacticians. I’m not advocating that history should be erased, but at the same time, we should acknowledge that it is inappropriate to have military bases named for people who were traitors to the United States.
As I wrote two years ago, “Many soldiers serving on those bases are minorities and may have ancestors that people like Henry Benning, Braxton Bragg, and John Bell Hood fought to keep enslaved. Black soldiers make up 21 percent of army personnel, even though only 13 percent of the US population is black. It is not unreasonable that the army wants minority recruits to feel welcome.”
I live near Fort Benning, which was named for Henry Benning, a minor Confederate general who later became a justice on Georgia’s supreme court. I fully expect a lot of resistance to changing the name of the base, but Benning, although apparently a capable soldier, was not a master strategist or particularly bold soldier.
I would have liked to see Fort Benning renamed for Gen. George Patton, who resided there with his wife as commander of the 2nd Armored Division prior to World War II. It’s fair to say, however, that Patton, although a bonafide hero, does come with his own baggage.
Instead, the Naming Commission recommends that Fort Benning become Fort Moore. If you’ve seen the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” you know about Hal Moore. The recommendation also cites Moore’s wife, Julia, as a namesake for the base. General Moore helped to pioneer the concept of airmobile infantry in Vietnam and heroically led his men in the Battle of Ia Drang against the North Vietnamese Army while his wife helped to reform the army’s casualty notification procedures and support the families of her husband’s soldiers.
If they weren’t going to pick Patton, Hal and Julia Moore are good choices.
Based on the recommendations, other changes include:
- Fort Bragg, N.C., named for Gen. Braxton Bragg, will become Fort Liberty.
- Fort Gordon, Ga., named for Gen. John B. Gordon, will become Fort Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during WWII.
- Fort A.P. Hill, in Virginia, will be renamed for Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first female surgeon in the army and a former POW. Edwards was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her service in the Civil War.
- Fort Hood, Texas, named for John Bell Hood, will be redesignated Fort Cavazos in honor of Richard Cavazos, a decorated veteran of the Korean War who became the first Hispanic to be promoted to general.
- Fort Lee, Virginia will be renamed Fort Gregg-Adams for Arthur Gregg and Charity Adams. Adams commanded the first unit of African-American women deployed overseas and Gregg was the first recipient of a new army award for logistics innovation and excellence.
- Fort Pickett, Virginia, named for the commander of the ill-fated Pickett’s charge, will be renamed for Van Barfoot, a soldier of Choctaw descent who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Italian campaign in WWII.
- Louisiana’s Fort Polk was named for Leonidas Polk, a Confederate general who died in the Atlanta campaign. It will be reamed for William Henry Johnson, a black soldier who became the first American hero of WWI. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre at the time but wasn’t honored with American decorations until long after his death. These included the Medal of Honor.
- Fort Rucker, Alabama, was named for Edmund Rucker, a Confederate officer who never officially made it to general. As the home of army aviation, Fort Rucker’s new identity will be Fort Novosel, in honor of Michael Novosel, Sr. Novosel is a Medal of Honor recipient whose service began in WWII. His exploits include rescuing his own son from a crashed aircraft in Vietnam. His son later rescued him as well.
The name changes are not a done deal. The Naming Commission will formally make its recommendations in a report to Congress due by October 1. From there, the Secretary of Defense has the authority to make the changes. I would expect Lloyd Austin to make the changes.
And he should. In our multicultural society, honoring people who are known for fighting a war of secession to preserve slavery sends a wrong and unpopular message. The new names are more unifying and if we are honest, are more representative of modern American values.
There really are no good reasons beyond tradition to preserve the Confederate names. There were really no good reasons to name the bases, many of which date back to the rapid military buildups of the world wars, after Civil War losers in the first place. My guess is that not a lot of thought was given to the matter beyond picking a local military figure and slapping his name on the new army post.
I think the Naming Commission has done an inspired job with finding new namesakes for these bases. The names both educate the public about the contributions of lesser-known military people, many of whom both broke ground from an ethnic perspective as well as making significant contributions to the army.
The US Army was at the forefront of integration (not always voluntarily) and has long provided equal opportunity for minority soldiers. It is ironic that so many of its soldiers still serve on bases commemorating people who fought to preserve slavery and rip the United States asunder.
It’s high time we changed that.
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