By Tim Taylor
The main (and really only) argument put forth to preserve the names of military facilities that are named after Confederate leaders (or anything else) is that they are part of our history. Sure, the Confederate leaders and the war itself is part of our history. The Confederacy lead to the deaths of an estimated three quarters of a million people, soldiers and civilians, all in an effort to retain the ability to own other human beings. The reason these facility names exist is because there was a desire to honor the Confederacy and its leaders. Why do we honor the Confederacy and its leaders? To allow southern whites to feel good about a bad history, and to impress upon southern blacks that they really weren’t free after all.
Now if we want to honor the military leaders of the past enemies of the United States, why stop with the Civil War? There have been a number of great military leaders that have fought against us. And they did not betray their country to do so. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was one of the greatest military men of all time, serving Germany from 1910 through World War II. Then there was Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg during WWI. I’m afraid these ideas would get traction with the same folks that support the Confederate legacies. However, the U.S. does have a former Nazi base in Germany named Panzer Kaserne.
The great North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap is part of our history, as is Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. We should never forget that history. But, no one wants to honor those men either.
Now, I would have no problem naming a base after Sitting Bull or Cochise. They were just defending their people, and with more honor than shown them. There is Camp Navaho and Fort Huachuca in Arizona, but it’s not the same thing.
As for who military bases should be named after, assuming the Confederate names are dropped, there are some great candidates out there. I would put forth the following:
Sergeant William H. Carney was born a slave and became the first black soldier to earn the Medal of Honor. Serving in the legendary 54th Massachusetts Regiment, he famously saved the Stars and Stripes during the siege on Fort Wagner in the Civil War, yelling out, “Boys, the Old Flag never touched the ground!”
Pvt. Cathay Williams became the first black female to enlist when she joined the U.S. Army under a male pseudonym, William Cathay, in 1866. Williams was the first black woman to enlist in the U.S. Army and the only known female Buffalo Soldier.
Although better known for helping slaves reach freedom, Harriet Tubman also served the Union cause. She began as a nurse, without pay. She then developed a network of spies and scouts all over the South, reporting to Union commanders. In 1863, Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. President Trump has blocked naming the twenty-dollar bill for her. I wonder how he’d feel about Harriet Tubman Army Base.
Admiral David Farragut, the first person to ever be made an Admiral, was a Hispanic. He began as a midshipman (at the age of nine!) and fought in the War of 1812 at age eleven, and later the Civil War. There used to be Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho, but that’s now Farragut State Park. There are two Navy destroyers named after him.
Marcelino Serna, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, served during WWII even though he didn’t have to. For his heroism in France, General Pershing made him the first Hispanic American to receive the second-highest U.S. military decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. He was never awarded the Medal of Honor. Maybe Fort Serna would be better.
I remain optimistic that the needed changes on this front will be successful. Sooner or later, our American military facilities will bear names we can all be proud of.
The opinion expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of KNSJ or its sponsors.