Change is hard, and some change is harder than others.
History is not static. It is reinterpreted over time as we learn more about past events and as we come to understand them differently.
Both of these truisms come into play as we adjust to the newly renamed Fort Liberty, née Camp Bragg, the “center of the universe” to thousands of current and former military personnel, their families, and the rest of us who have lived and worked in a community heavily dependent on and invested in the world’s largest military installation.
We are not alone in our period of adjustment.
The U.S. Naming Commission, a body created by Congress and tasked with renaming bases from Virginia to Texas that were named a century or more ago for Confederate military heroes, not U.S. military heroes. They were named during a period when the South was still reeling from the trauma of the Civil War, when racial segregation was in full force, and when Southerners held strong sway in the halls of the U.S. Congress.
This year Fort Benning becomes Fort Moore. Gordon becomes Eisenhower. Lee becomes Gregg-Adams. AP Hill becomes Walker. Hood becomes Cavazos. Pickett becomes Barfoot. Polk becomes Johnson, and Rucker becomes Novosel.
The Confederates for whom the bases were originally named have their defenders, but the cause they championed — maintaining an economic system that allowed some human beings to own and exploit other human beings — was fundamentally unjust and immoral.
Fort Liberty is named for a founding concept of our nation, but other newly renamed bases honor Americans from many backgrounds who served the United States with courage and distinction.
Dwight David Eisenhower led the Allied forces to victory in World War II and went on to serve two terms as President.
General Hal Moore and his wife, Julia, served a combined 32 years with time overseas in Japan, Norway, Vietnam, and Korea. Her work led to casualty notification teams and survivor support systems in place to this day.
General Arthur Gregg served all over the world, promoting equality and personally desegregating the Fort Lee Officers Club. Lieutenant Colonel Charity Adams oversaw millions of pieces of mail sent to soldiers in Europe so effectively during WW II that it took three people to replace her.
Dr. Mary Walker was a skilled surgeon, a strong advocate for women’s rights, and an abolitionist. She was captured and imprisoned by the Confederates after she stayed behind enemy lines to provide medical care to U.S. troops.
General Richard Cavazos was the first Hispanic American to wear four stars and is known for his commitment to his troops, personally evacuating wounded men in Vietnam.
Technical Sergeant Van Barfoot served for 34 years in WW II, Korea and Vietnam. He is remembered for his bravery and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sergeant William Henry Johnson was known as the United States’ first hero of World War I for fighting off about two dozen German soldiers around trenches in France’s Argonne Forest. When he ran out of grenades, he fired bullets. When he ran out of bullets, he used his rifle as a club. He eventually abandoned the rifle and unsheathed his bolo knife.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Novosel served in WW II and in Vietnam, where he flew more than 2,500 rescue evacuation missions, rescuing 5,500 wounded men. He received the Medal of Honor for saving 29 soldiers from certain death on a single day.
No one can argue that those being honored by the renaming of military bases were not exceptional and loyal Americans committed to the United States and our values of liberty and equality.
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us more than once that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Change can take a long time, a century or more, but it does happen.