Protests over what prosecutors are calling the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis has renewed the debate about whether or not Army installations named after Confederate brass should be changed.
In February, the Marine Corps commandant ordered the removal of Confederacy paraphernalia from bases worldwide, a decision that came on the heels of a congressional hearing that centered on white nationalism and extremism in the military.
However, the Army, which operates 10 installations named after Confederate military commanders, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Lee in Virginia, opted not to follow suit.
A number of Navy vessels at points bore the names of Confederate officers or battles, some of which are tied to the segregation and civil rights movements that reached a fever pitch in the 1960s, include those named for Robert E. Lee, H.L. Hunley and Stonewall Jackson. Most have since been retired, however, the USS Chancellorsville remains. The other services do not have marked ties to the Confederacy.
An interesting side effect of the current climate and ongoing discussions has been the widescale contribution of suggestions for how the Army might consider going about renaming its Confederate bases.
The Army Ethos Approach
For The Washington Post, retired Army brigadier general and professor emeritus of history at West Point Ty Seidule offered 10 soldiers with untarnished records across the branch’s 245-year history whose heroism might be considered the stuff of military legends.
Though it’s unclear the reason he designates each select soldier to a specific current Confederate bases. However, Seidule notes that the have been chosen as they exemplify the “strength, values and diversity of the Army’s storied history.”
Seidule suggests Fort Hood be named for Maj. Audie Murphy, Fort Polk for Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, Camp Beauregard for Cpl. Tibor “Ted” Rubin, Fort Rucker for Lt. Col. Michael Novosel, Fort Benning for 1st Lt. Vernon Baker, and seven more.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of other worthy soldiers who could be honored,” Seidule writes. “Our nation would not miss the names currently on these installations — and the Army has so many heroes to choose from.”
The “Future is Female” Option
Women have long been left out of the naming conventions across all historical areas — the military is no exception. One approach seeks to rectify that by suggesting valorous female service members throughout history might bring the Army’s installations into a place of gender equality.
Erin Blakemore with Smithsonian put forward the names of five women she believes are deserving of recognition for their outstanding contributions to U.S. military history.
“Though women only became full, permanent members of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948, they have been part of the Army since its earliest days,” Blakemore writes. “Women have always served alongside American men at war, whether as cooks or laundresses, nurses or spies, or even disguised as soldiers.”
Though it doesn’t designate bases to rename, her list includes Harriet Tubman, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley, Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke, and Spc. Lori Piestewa — all diverse female trailblazers from different conflicts.
The Unsung Heroes Appeal
Several op-eds offer the option of renaming the 10 installations for soldiers who carried out acts of valor, but avoid the mark of being branch brass.
For the LA Times, Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, and Danny Sjursen, U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point, generated a list of candidates, with one criteria: “no one living and no generals.” Their offering include one name from each conflict the U.S. Army has been involved with beginning with the Civil War and ending with Post-9/11.
The names include Chiricahua Apache fighter Geronimo for Fort Bragg, Sen. George McGovern, a B-24 bomber pilot in WWII, for Camp Beauregard, Maj. Alvin York for Fort Benning, and Army nurse Josephine Nesbit for Fort Lee, among others.
Another piece featured in Defense One — a draft of a memo written by Col. Michael Jason, Lt. Col. John Nagl and Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, all retired Army — was intended for Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy’s signature. It suggests several names in a similar vein to those chosen by Bacevich and Sjursen, but with a tie to geography. Namely, those soldiers selected to replace Confederate names are from the states where bases are.
Among them are Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe for Fort Benning, Sgt. Henry Johnson for Fort Bragg, Pvt. James Daniel Garner for Fort Pickett, and 1st Lt. Charles Thomas for Fort Rucker.
Of late, a number of prominent officials, both from the military and the federal government, have come out in favor of at least revisiting the issue of installation names, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, retired Gen. David Petraeus, Sen. Mitch McConnell and current Defense Secretary Mark Esper, to name a few.
Whether renaming processes will commence, or how they might happen, remains unclear.
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Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.