Ever since the June 17 killing of nine members of a historic black church in South Carolina, the nation’s complicated history with the Confederacy and how to mark it in the 21st century has been hotly debated. Most notably, it has led to calls for the Confederate flag to be taken down on public property. But it also has led some critics to question whether the Army should have installations named after Confederate leaders, and if it’s time for those to change.
The Army dug in last week, saying no changes will be made. Every one of the service’s posts is named after a soldier who holds a place in our military history, said Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the service’s director of public affairs. The ones named after Confederate officers include Fort Pickett, Fort Lee, and Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Gordon and Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Polk and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana.
“These historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies,” Frost said in statement distributed last week. “It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division.”
Checkpoint won’t weigh in on whether the Army should make such a dramatic and sweeping change. Institutionally, renaming so many of the service’s major installations would surely elicit a large backlash and questions of whether political correctness has run amok at the expense of history.
However, Checkpoint is going to weigh in with something related: Which generals the Army could feasibly recognize were it to make such a leap. Two rules:
1) Any general proposed in this space must be deceased. That will hopefully allow for a better look at history and each officer’s place in it.
2) Any general proposed must have a distinguished record that includes leading troops in combat. Also, mixed results count. For example, Gen. William Westmoreland served in three wars and was a chief of staff of the Army, but is widely remembered for leading the strategically questionable military buildup in Vietnam. Other options are available.
A point of fact: Despite the perceived North versus South aspect to this debate, it’s worth mentioning that some of the Army’s major posts in southern states actually have been named for Union generals. They include Fort Campbell in Tennessee and Fort McClellan, an Army post in Alabama that closed in 1999.
Also, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio is named after a Texan hero who served in the Army in the early 1800s and late opposed secession while serving as governor. He was removed from office as a result.
Here are five alternate generals to consider. Others are certainly up for conversation, as well.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower was a towering figure, one of the few five-star generals in U.S. history and the 34th president. He planned and led the D-Day invasion of Europe during World War II, and served in numerous senior roles afterward.
Eisenhower also was born in Texas, although he later moved to Kansas and considered it his home state. Would his name make a good alternate option for Fort Hood?
Potential drawbacks or points of confusion: There already is a Navy aircraft carrier and an Army hospital at Fort Gordon named after Eisenhower. No installation is, however.
Gen. John J. Pershing
“Black Jack” Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces to a victory over Germany during World War I. A Missouri native, he earned a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for heroism and fought in the 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba.
He isn’t flawless. Some historians question whether he relied too much on full frontal assaults that killed too many U.S. troops, and he chose not to integrate black units with other American troops during World War I (black troops fought in French formations). But he is widely considered one of the most influential and important officers of the 20th century, and currently has no major installation named in his honor.
Maj. Gen. Keith Ware
Ware first joined the Army as a draftee in 1941, and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top decoration for combat valor, for leading a battalion on Dec. 26, 1944, through a fierce World War II battle near Sigolsheim, France.
Afterward, Ware became the first World War II draftee to stay in the military and work his way up to become a general officer. He was popular with his soldiers, but his life and career were cut short Sept. 13, 1968, while surveying a Vietnamese battlefield by helicopter. The aircraft came under enemy fire and crashed seven miles from the Cambodian border, military officials said later that day. All eight men on board were killed.
Ware has no major U.S. post named after him. He was one of at least five Army generals killed in Vietnam.
Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
The son of the nation’s 26th president was a decorated war hero, earning a Medal of Honor for his heroism during the D-Day invasion at Normandy. At 56 years old, he landed with the first wave of forces on enemy-held beaches, and repeatedly led groups of soldiers farther inland under enemy fire.
Roosevelt received his Medal of Honor posthumously after he died a few weeks later in Normandy of a heart attack, and was buried there. According to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, he walked with a cane at the time, the result of injuries he had suffered earlier in life while serving during World War I.
He left the military in between the wars, resulting in one of the more remarkable “broken-service” military careers in history. During those civilian years, he served as governor of Puerto Rico, governor-general of the Philippines and as assistant secretary of the Navy.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Another legendary officer, MacArthur was a pupil of Pershing’s and went on to become five-star general. He earned a Medal of Honor for valor in the Philippines during World War II, a Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in France during World War I and numerous Silver Stars.
MacArthur is best known for his leadership in the Pacific. In one notable example, he commanded the Inchon Landing, a massive amphibious landing during the Korean War that is still widely studied by military officers. He also led U.S. operations in Japan from 1945 to 1948, after World War II.
The general was relieved of his command for alleged insubordination by President Truman in April 1951, an unpopular move prompted by the general corresponding directly with Congress about the direction of the Korean War. The decision kept MacArthur from pulling the United States into a war with China.
Despite the sacking, MacArthur is generally considered one of the greatest U.S. officers of all time. A Fort MacArthur in California was named after his father, Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, but has been defunct for decades.
Update, 3 p.m.: Several readers have questioned the inclusion of MacArthur on this list, noting his self-promotion and political posturing, among other things. Those are fair points.
Other alternative options include Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, who is credited with turning the Korean War around after MacArthur was relieved, and Gen. George Marshall Jr., who commanded troops in World War II and later served as a secretary of state and secretary of defense.