A new name for Fort Hood? Trump says no, but discussion continues
By MARIA RECIO | Austin American-Statesman | Published: June 12, 2020
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Will Fort Hood, named in honor of a hard charging Confederate general, keep its name?
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the national eruption over symbols of slavery and oppression of African Americans, it is now an open question.
Earlier this week, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense signaled the Pentagon was "open to a bipartisan discussion" to renaming the 10 U.S. Army posts named for Confederate generals. And they were immediately bolstered by retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, who wrote that the Confederate generals "committed treason" and should no longer be honored with a post in their names.
President Trump seemed to slap that down Wednesday in a tweet that his administration "will not even consider the renaming."
But then the Senate Armed Services Committee later that day quietly approved a provision offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that creates a commission for the removal of divisive symbols, including the fort names, in three years.
Trump's reaction Thursday was to tweet that "Seriously failed presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth 'Pocahontas' Warren" had offered the amendment — it had, in fact, already passed — and to add "Hopefully our great Republican Senators won't fall for this!"
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at least, is one senator who, despite a high profile on conciliation with the African American community and policing — telling the family of Houston native Floyd that he would get them Texas-sized justice" — will not go along with changing Fort Hood's name or removing other divisive symbols such as statues.
"I don't agree with going back and trying to rename or pulling down statues or changing history books," Cornyn told reporters Wednesday. "I am for looking forward not backward. I just think that's the most constructive use of our time, energy and resources. It's dangerous to try to erase your history because you will be condemned to relive it."
Even as he shuts down the idea that confederate monuments contribute the racial divide, Cornyn is one of a half-dozen Republicans named by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to a task force, headed by the Senate's only black Republican, Tim Scott, R-S.C., to develop a police reform proposal to counter the one unveiled by House Democrats.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz did not respond immediately to requests for comment Thursday and Friday.
Warren, in a series of tweets Thursday said, "Changing the names of our bases won't erase the history of slavery and legacy of white supremacy in the US. We're fighting for legislation, oversight, and accountability to root out systemic racism. But it's long past time to stop honoring this ugly legacy."
The amendment she authored is part of a massive defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, and was reportedly approved on a voice vote in a closed session.
Petraeus, too, took a hard line in the Atlantic, saying of the 10 Confederate generals, including John Bell Hood, "The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country."
Hood was a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. military before seeking out and joining the rebel forces in Texas after his native Kentucky stayed neutral.
Fort Hood, located in Killeen, halfway between Austin and Waco, is one of the largest army posts in the world and opened in 1942 when the U.S. Army was still segregated. According to the 2010 Census, African Americans made up 17.4% of Fort Hood's nearly 30,000 population.
A proposal to replace Hood's name with that of Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, a Latino Medal of Honor recipient who was also a Texas native, has been in the works already.
The League of United Latin American Citizens passed a national resolution at its convention in 2019 calling for Fort Hood to be renamed in honor of Benavidez, a Green Beret. He was recognized with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, by President Reagan in 1981 for his valor in saving the lives of at least eight men in a firefight in 1968 in the Vietnam War.
He was wounded so badly that he was thought to be dead and put into a body bag but he later said he realized what was happening and spit in the face of the doctor who was about to zip him up.
At the White House citation ceremony Reagan commented, "If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it."
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Benavidez during his military service was also awarded five Purple Hearts, a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed in battle.
"It's time that we recognize our true Texas heroes," said Dallas-based LULAC national President Domingo Garcia in an interview. "By naming it for a Latino, that shows that Texas and America are inclusive and diverse."
Benavidez, who died in 1998, is someone more people need to know about and more young people serving in the military can look up to, Garcia said. "He's the real Rambo. The real American hero."
The two U.S. House members who represent Fort Hood, U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock and Roger Williams, R-Austin, have nuanced positions on the name change, preferring to leave the decision to the military — which, of course, would have to defy the commander in chief.
"Representative Carter believes that the naming of installations is best handled by the Pentagon and they will make a decision that's right for the Army, the soldier and their families," Carter spokesperson Emily Dowdell told the American-Statesman.
Williams, in a statement, said, "My No. 1 priority has and always will be providing our military with the resources they need to fight and win our nation's battles. The Department of the Army must do what is best for the highest readiness, morale and welfare of our soldiers. I welcome any review by the secretary that would be beneficial to the cohesiveness and well-being of our war fighters."