The United States must be the only nation in the world that names military posts after traitors. The police killing of George Floyd has brought renewed attention to this absurd practice, in which U.S. Army and Army National Guard installations across the South bear the names of secessionist generals, most of them West Pointers, who fought to uphold slavery during the Civil War.
The moment to end this practice has arrived. The Army should take the opportunity to end this offensive tradition and ensure the namesakes of Army installations express the courage, fidelity and moral awareness that Americans expect of their soldiers.
The Army should take the opportunity to end this offensive tradition and ensure the namesakes of Army installations express the courage, fidelity and moral awareness that Americans expect of their soldiers.
Here are our nominations for replacement honorees for 10 Army posts that currently bear the names of dishonorable Confederate generals. Our criteria are simple: no one living and no generals.
Naming Army posts after very senior officers suggests a correlation between rank and military merit. From personal experience, we know that no such relationship exists. Besides, plenty of other posts — Forts Meade, Drum and Leonard Wood, for example — carry the names of generals who, whatever their limitations, at least fought on the right side.
Far better to honor those who while serving modeled virtues that can inspire current and future soldiers.
Civil War — Col. Robert Gould Shaw Born of a prominent abolitionist family, Shaw organized, trained and led the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, among the very first African American regiments in the Union Army. At age 25, Shaw was killed on July 18, 1863, leading his regiment’s assault on Battery Wagner, at Charleston, S.C. Ft. Hood, Texas, currently designated for a Confederate general, should be renamed Ft. Shaw.
Post-Civil War — Lt. Henry Flipper Born into slavery in Georgia, Flipper was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. At West Point, he endured vile hazing at the hands of his fellow cadets. Commissioned in 1877, he served honorably with the 10th U.S. Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers, until dismissed from the Army in 1882 on trumped up charges. In 1999, a presidential pardon cleared Flipper’s name, which should grace Ft. Gordon, in his home state.
World War I — Sgt. Alvin York Awarded the Medal of Honor for combat actions in France in 1918, including leading an attack on a German machine gun emplacement. York represents the ideal of the citizen soldier serving his country in time of need. Ft. Benning, Ga., should be renamed Ft. York.
World War II, Pacific — Maj. Josephine Nesbit Nesbit joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1918 during the influenza pandemic and served until 1946. Stationed in the Philippines in 1941, she was captured after the fall of Bataan and spent the remainder of the war faithfully administering to her fellow POWs. Ft. Lee, Va., currently named in honor of the slaveholding Robert E. Lee, should be renamed Ft. Nesbit.
World War II, Europe — Lt. Daniel Inouye In 1943, when the Army dropped its ban on Japanese Americans serving, Inouye immediately volunteered and joined the famed all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. After earning a battlefield commission, he sustained several wounds and ultimately received the Medal of Honor. He subsequently served his native Hawaii in the Senate for more than 40 years. The Army should rename Ft. Polk, La., Ft. Daniel Inouye.
World War II, Army Air Forces — Capt. George McGovern Piloting a B-24 Liberator bomber, McGovern flew 35 combat missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross among other decorations. After the war, he served his home state of South Dakota in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and courageously opposed the folly of the Vietnam War. Louisiana’s Camp Beauregard, whose name now venerates the officer who fired the first shots at Ft. Sumter in 1861, should become Camp McGovern.
Korea — Master Sgt. Mike Pena Enlistingat age 16, Pena served in World War II and then Korea, where he earned the Medal of Honor posthumously after single-handedly holding off the enemy so his unit could safely retreat. Ft. Pena is the better title for a Virginia post currently named for the traitor A.P. Hill.
Vietnam — Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson While serving in Vietnam in 1968 as an Army aviator, Thompson landed his helicopter between Vietnamese villagers and U.S. troops to put an end to the My Lai massacre of some 350 civilians. Ft. Rucker, Ala., home of U.S. Army Aviation, should be renamed Ft. Thompson in his memory.
Post-9/11 — Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos In 2009, with his unit outnumbered six-to-one, Gallegos gallantly defended an Afghanistan outpost. This first-generation Mexican American held a critical position until exhausting his ammunition. Killed exposing himself to retrieve a wounded comrade, he received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. Gallegos is an appropriate namesake for Ft. Pickett, Va., to replace the rebel general known for his foolish charge at Gettysburg.
Native American — Geronimo A valiant Chiricahua Apache warrior, Geronimo resisted U.S. government efforts to deprive Indians of their freedom in the late 1800s. During World War II, U.S. Army paratroopers shouted, “Geronimo!” when exiting their aircraft. It is thus fitting to rename Ft. Bragg, N.C., home of the airborne, Ft. Geronimo.
Members of Congress can act quickly when appropriating trillions in corporate bailouts in a time of economic crisis. They should demonstrate similar alacrity in expunging Confederate names from Army installations. President Trump predictably opposes any such action. Our elected representatives and senators should disregard his intransigence and pass the necessary legislation by a veto-proof majority.
The Army has a lot of signs to repaint.
Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjursen
Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjurseneach graduated from West Point and subsequently taught U.S. history there. Bacevich is a Vietnam veteran. Sjursen served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reposted with permission from the Los Angeles Times.