Austin Orders Renaming of Bases that Honor Confederate Rebels

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Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III provides testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2023 budget request in Washington, D.C.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III provides testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2023 budget request in Washington, D.C. (Lisa Ferdinando/Defense Department photo)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday signed off on an independent commission's recommendations to rename military bases that honor Confederate officers and scrub a long list of references commemorating the southern rebellion.

The Naming Commission, established by Congress last year, took inventory of all of the military's contemporary references to the Confederecy, which waged war against the United States to preserve the slave trade. It found nine Army bases and several buildings commemorating rebel officers, in addition to a monument honoring Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

"The names of these installations and facilities should inspire all those who call them home, fully reflect the history and the values of the United States, and commemorate the best of the republic that we are all sworn to protect," Austin, the first Black defense secretary, said in a statement in which he said he agreed with the commission's recommendations. 

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The order from Austin to follow the recommendations of the commission will be held up by a 90-day waiting period in most cases, per the congressional action that started the renaming process, but should be in place by 2024 at the latest.

In total, the commission found some 1,100 Confederate references across the Defense Department, including the missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, which was named after a major southern victory in a battle against the Union. 

The nine Army bases will be renamed after a diverse roster of historical figures, including women and minorities, a radical departure from mostly naming bases after white men.

Fort Polk, Louisiana, for example will be named after Sgt. William Johnson, a Black Medal of Honor recipient for valor during World War I. Fort Benning, Georgia, will be renamed Fort Moore in commemoration of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, a famed cavalry officer depicted in "We Were Soldiers," and his wife, Julia Moore, who spurred the Army to create casualty notification teams. Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, will honor Dr. Mary Walker, the only female Medal of Honor recipient for her actions treating the wounded during the Civil War. She was also a prisoner of war. 

The other bases with their planned new names are:

But not all references were automatically put on the chopping block. The Virginia National Guard's famed 29th Infantry Division, known for its legendary battle storming the beaches of Nazi-occupied France, has a yin yang unit insignia with blue and grey, referencing units that originally belonged to opposing sides of the Civil War forming together under a single banner during World War I. It will not be changed. 

"The Commission has chosen names that echo with honor, patriotism, and history -- names that will inspire generations of Service members to defend our democracy and our Constitution," Austin said. 

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Fort Liberty? Bragg and 8 Other Bases Get New Proposed Names to Scrub Confederate Links

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