January 2024

Some Progress

Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

On a wall in my den hang several framed parchments from my time as an Army infantry officer. There's a diploma of completion from Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division. A certificate of achievement from the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii congratulates me on earning the Expert Infantryman Badge.

I also completed the 16-week Infantry Officer Basic Course (graduating on the Commandant's List, thank you very much) and then knocked out the three weeks of Airborne School where I learned how to parachute from perfectly good aircraft.

These last two diplomas bear the name of Fort Benning in Georgia, long the Army's home for most of its infantry training schools. I often joke that back when I served we still carried muskets, but I'm very happy to report that the name "Fort Benning" is now an anachronism.

Recently and at long last, the Department of Defense changed the names of nine American military posts originally named for traitors, i.e. Confederate generals. 

Fort Benning will hereafter and forever be known as Fort Moore. The post's former namesake was Henry L. Benning, a Georgia Supreme Court justice who vociferously called for his state's secession when Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Benning eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate Army. In a first for our military, the post's new designation celebrates a couple: both the late Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore and his wife Julia.

You may be familiar with this paragon of Army couples if you read the 1992 bestseller We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: Ia Drang — the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam, co-written by Hal Moore and celebrated war correspondent Joseph Galloway or if you watched the 2002 film adaptation, We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson as then-Lieutenant Colonel Moore and Madeleine Stowe as Julia Moore.

Lieutenant Colonel Moore's superb command of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at infamous LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 earned him the Army's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. But his wife was also a courageous leader.

Appalled by the callous procedure of a Western Union messenger delivering the most dreaded of telegrams, Julia Moore successfully petitioned the Pentagon to adopt a system where families would be informed of their loss by someone in the soldier's chain of command.

Hal Moore is a legend among Army infantry officers, and rightfully so. I remember reading about him when I was a young second lieutenant. Hal and Julia are a thousand times more deserving of a post named for them—especially an infantry training center—than some racist traitor who'd have been better served with a last cigarette and a generous helping of a .50 caliber volley at dawn.

The tiresome and specious argument will again be made that the renaming of these posts somehow "erases" or "rewrites" history. What nonsense! History isn't going anywhere. Confederate generals were traitors: period. They took up arms for a cause which was, as Ulysses Grant justly wrote after the Civil War, "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse." The deeds these men committed to secure their infamy will forever remain in the history books.

But let me put it another way: England has long been our ally, but we'd never dream of memorializing any of her generals who fought against us in the American Revolution or the War of 1812—imagine the absurdity of a Fort Burgoyne or a Camp Cornwallis. Erwin Rommel and Vo Nguyen Giap were two of the wiliest tacticians we've ever faced, but no one thinks to name a base after them.

How insulting it was to American men and women—black or otherwise—who volunteered for our military and served on posts named for scoundrels. The 82nd Airborne Division acquired the nickname "All American" back in 1918, but from 1948 to 2023 the home of the "All American Division" was named for Braxton Bragg, not only a Confederate general but one of the most inept generals of the Civil War. Of course, all these posts named for traitors were in the South.

Along with newly designated Fort Moore, here are the other long overdue name changes:

Fort Pickett, Fort Lee, and Fort A.P. Hill, all in Virginia, become Fort Barfoot, Fort Gregg-Adams, and Fort Walker respectively.

Fort Rucker In Alabama is renamed Fort Novosel.

Fort Bragg in North Carolina becomes Fort Liberty.

Fort Gordon in Georgia becomes Fort Eisenhower.

Fort Hood in Texas becomes Fort Cavazos.

Fort Polk in Louisiana is renamed Fort Johnson.

*****

In a case of long overdue recognition, the US Mint announced that as part of its American Women Quarters Program it will feature Althea Gibson on a 25-cent coin in 2025.

If anyone has been "lost in the shuffle" of our increasingly scatterbrained, device-addled modernity, it's this great African-American woman. What an amazing, superlative champion! And how few people seem to remember her!

Long before Arthur Ashe, let alone Venus and Serena Williams, Gibson was a tennis titan and the first African-American—male or female—to win a "Grand Slam" tournament: she won the women's singles title at the French Open in 1956, as well as the doubles title. That same year she also won the doubles title at Wimbledon.

1957 proved to be her annus mirabilis. She won the Ladies' Singles title at Wimbledon and repeated her doubles victory. As she later wrote, "shaking hands with the Queen of England was a long way from being forced to sit in the colored section of the bus."

One of my very favorite photos from the world of sports and American history in general depicts Gibson, Venus Rosewater Dish in hand, receiving the warm congratulations of Darlene Hard, the woman whom Gibson defeated in the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles final match (and the woman who played alongside her for the Doubles Championship.) Hard was also an American; it's easy to forget that it was 1957 and the seemingly innocuous gesture of a white woman giving Gibson a congratulatory kiss on the cheek was a daring act, one that must have driven bigots back home in the good 'ole US of A absolutely nuts.

On her return to America, Althea Gibson received a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, only the second Black American to receive such an honor (the first was Jesse Owens after his four gold medal-performance at the 1936 Olympics.) A month later, Gibson won the US National Championship at Forest Hills (what would late be called the US Open) and would become the first Black woman to appear on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.

While she will be largely remembered for her tennis career, Althea Gibson also played golf at an elite level, joining the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) after retiring from tennis. Over the course of her life she secured many triumphs against great odds, but endured discrimination and failures despite her achievements. Her incredible story deserves far more than a place on the back of a coin—I await a major full-length film—but it's some progress.

 

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Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh is a writer and poet. After college, he served four years on active duty as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division. He also holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Anglo-Irish literature from Ireland's University of Dublin, Trinity College. His poems and freelance articles have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.

 

©2024 Patrick Walsh
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

 

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