From November 1966 through May 1967, I attended Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On May 11, Fort Benning disappeared. It wasn’t a casualty of Congressional budget cutting but a tribute to decency.
Few candidates knew that the post was named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate brigadier general. It’s hard to square that honor with Benning having fought for those who struggled to keep the ancestors of many Black candidates enslaved.
What led to such an honor? Military posts in the south were named after Confederate officers as a sop to regional and local populations who still honored their old way of life, which included limiting the definition of “the land of the free.” The Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War led to Reconstruction, which was bitterly resisted and short-lived. Jim Crow was allowed to rule southern life in part because Americans in the former Confederacy voted in Congressional and Presidential elections.
The original Camp Benning was established in 1918. It took decades to correct a grievous politico-racist fault. The National Defense Authorization Act (Fiscal 2021) required renaming all ten army bases named for Confederate military leaders.
President Donald J. Trump—who dodged the draft during Vietnam—opposed the measure. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a… ….history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
The bases fulfilled their purpose. The names failed the African American soldiers who trained and served there.
Despite Trump, the provision stood. On October 6, 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, directed the name changes to be completed by January 1, 2024. Fittingly, Secretary Austin is an African American, as was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Eight days ago, Fort Benning became Fort Moore.
Who was Fort Moore named after? A general, yes. Also, his wife.
Lt. General Hal Moore (1922-2017) was a West Point graduate and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. As a lieutenant colonel, he commanded a battalion in the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, America’s first major encounter in Vietnam. (At Ft. McClellan, Alabama—closed in 1999—I met someone who fought there.) In 1970, as a major general in South Korea, he issued an Equal Opportunity Policy promising to punish any form of discrimination. Moore retired in 1977. With journalist Joseph Galloway, he wrote the 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. Journalist/historian David Halberstam called it, “A stunning achievement.”
Julia Compton Moore (1929–2004), an “Army brat,” corrected a failure by the Army following the Ia Drang battle regarding notifications of killed-in-action. The Army was sending taxi drivers to deliver telegrams to stunned families. Mrs. Moore complained to the Pentagon, which soon required each notification to be delivered by an officer and a chaplain.
Martin Luther King, Jr is famous for, among other remarks, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It has taken many years and hurdling the attempted obstruction of an American president, but justice, at least in this and similar cases, has been done.
Anyone who serves—or has served—at Fort Moore can be proud of the husband and wife after whom the post was just re-named. I am.
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