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News >  Military

Army bases that honor Confederate traitors could soon be renamed for these heroes

July 4, 2022 Updated Mon., July 4, 2022 at 9:03 p.m.

By Chris Cameron New York Times

WASHINGTON – During the Jim Crow era, nine Southern Army bases were named for treasonous Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy. Now a commission established by Congress has suggested new names for the bases that “embody the best of the United States Army and America.”

Fort Bragg in North Carolina would be renamed Fort Liberty, if the recommendations are approved by Congress. The other bases would honor some of the Army’s most distinguished heroes. Here are three of their stories:

Fort Johnson (Fort Polk, Louisiana)Sgt. Henry Johnson

Pvt. Henry Johnson deployed to Europe during World War I in a storied Black regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The U.S. armed forces were segregated, and the Hellfighters were not allowed to fight on the front lines with other U.S. troops. Instead, the Black soldiers fought under the command of their French allies.

That put Johnson and his unit at the front lines, “against all odds – Black Americans wearing French uniforms,” in the predawn hours of May 15, 1918, as German troops swarmed his sentry post at the edge of the Argonne Forest, according to a biography provided by the naming commission.

Johnson threw grenades until he had no more left to throw. Then he fired his rifle until it jammed. Then he clubbed enemy soldiers with the butt of his rifle until it split apart. Then he hacked away at the enemy with his bolo knife.

After the Germans retreated, daylight revealed that Johnson had killed four enemy soldiers and wounded an estimated 10 to 20. He suffered 21 wounds in combat.

For their actions, Johnson and his sentrymate on duty that night were the first Americans to be awarded the Croix du Guerre, one of France’s highest military honors. Almost a century later, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Johnson the Medal of Honor.

Fort Walker (Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia)Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman ever awarded a Medal of Honor. A skilled surgeon, she volunteered during the Civil War because the Army refused to commission a woman as a medical officer.

She served near the front lines at Fredericksburg and Chattanooga, and routinely crossed battle lines to treat civilians. She was arrested by Confederate forces in 1864 and exchanged for a Confederate surgeon four months later. After she was denied an honorary military rank at the end of the war, Union generals successfully petitioned for her to receive the Medal of Honor for “patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded.”

Throughout her life, Walker proudly presented herself as a feminist who did not conform to gender norms. She refused to agree to “obey” her husband in her wedding vows and kept her last name, according to the National Park Service. She wore men’s clothing during the war, arguing that doing so made her job easier. After the war, she posed for photographs in suits and a signature top hat, often with her Medal of Honor pinned to her lapel.

Fort Barfoot (Fort Pickett, Virginia)Col. Van Barfoot

On May 23, 1944, in the foothills of the Italian Alps, Sgt. Van Barfoot single-handedly silenced three machine-gun nests, disabled a German tank with a bazooka, blew up an artillery cannon with a demolition charge and took 17 enemy soldiers prisoner.

In addition to everything else that day, he rescued two grievously wounded American soldiers, leading them about a mile to safety.

“Any single one of these actions could merit a high award for valor,” the naming commission wrote of Barfoot, a Choctaw soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor and extolled in the news media as a “one-man army” for his actions that day.

Back home in Mississippi after the war, he publicly embarrassed the U.S. senators from his state by rejecting their racist remarks about Black soldiers, according to a biography of James Eastland, one of the two Mississippi senators.

He served 34 years in the Army, including tours in Korea and Vietnam. Later in life he again drew national attention for successfully fighting his homeowners association to keep an American flag flying in his front yard.

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