On changing the names of military bases...thoughts from old soldiers
I’ve been mulling over the idea of renaming U S Army bases that are named after Confederate generals. I come from a military family. I am the third of five generations of men in my family to serve. We have served in every major war this country has been in for more than one hundred years, spanning the period between World War One and Afghanistan. Needless to say, we have all been to at least one of the now-offending posts.
I have been to three of them: Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning and Ft Hood. I never met a soldier who knew about or cared about the man after whom the post was named. I later read that Generals Bragg, Benning and Hood were not considered the South’s finest officers. There’s a post in Virginia named after Robert E. Lee, so that would be an exception.
Ft. Bragg is in North Carolina. It’s one of the largest military bases in the United States, covering 251 square miles over four countries. It’s named after Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, graduate of West Point and Confederate. Ft. Bragg is the “Home of the Airborne” and also the home of the Army’s Special Forces and other special warfare units. I spent some time there jumping out of planes and, briefly, in the hospital there.
Ft. Benning, Georgia covers 284 square miles. It is named after Henry L. Benning, another Confederate general. Ft Benning is the “Home of the Infantry” and it’s where many thousands of Americans, including me, learned how to jump out of airplanes. There are a number of schools at Ft. Benning and some special warfare units.
Ft. Hood covers 335 square miles of Texas scrubland and houses two tank divisions that have enough room there to stage tank battles. Ft. Hood is named for Confederate general John Bell Hood.
These bases trace back to the early part of the 20th Century when the Army needed land to train men for World War One and later for World War Two and still later for the challenges of the Cold War and Vietnam. Available land was in the South. Feelings were till raw over the outcome of the Civil War. The naming of the bases was a sop to the former Confederate states.
Generations of men and women have trained at these bases, been stationed there and departed for war, many never to return.
My point is that, to me, the names are etched into the memories of those who served and no longer are attached to the men after whom they are named. Some of America’s bravest warriors will say something like, “I went to jump school at Benning and served with the 82nd at Bragg.” These warriors could not care less about Generals Bragg or Benning. To me it’s a legacy that transcends the origin.
I asked two friends of mine, both career Army officers, what they think of the proposal to change the names of the bases. One, a retired lt. colonel, served at some of those bases and is a combat veteran of Vietnam. Here’s what he has to say:
“The name of this or that post is for me not that important. The layers of meaning larded on to a post are derived from those who served there and subsequently went on to fight for the nation. THAT is what the post regardless of its name symbolizes. An OCS classmate of mine, Ken Sisler ("George K. Sisler") earned a posthumous Medal of Honor in Vietnam. A building at Fort Huachuca was subsequently named for him--if any attempt were made to change the name of that building out of political correctness, I would be upset. A lot. Because it would be a profound devaluation of Ken's actions in battle in compliance with his soldier's oath, and in fact beyond compliance at the cost of his life. For me, neither Gordon nor Bragg nor Benning come up to that rarified standard.”
Another friend and fellow Legionaire is a retired colonel and Vietnam veteran who commanded troops at Ft. Hood, one of the offending bases. Here’s what he said:
I had basic at Benning and a battalion command at Hood. Until I knew I was going to Hood, I didn’t know the history of these posts, but I learned it and made that history a part of training for my soldiers. Although my soldiers came from almost all cultures, they accepted these facts with little more than some murmurs. My NCOs fed back that they, too, were glad to learn the history and that such long-ago happenings were accepted by their soldiers without serious protest. They said knowing the truth and being straightforward with the troops made their leadership easier and dispelled the need for increased discipline.
I understand the feelings of those who observe the origin of these base names and are wounded by them. I have two wishes: First, that new names for these bases honor those who served with honor, and second, that those who are in the streets demanding these name changes have enough love and respect for America that they are willing to serve on the very soil they want to rename.