Fort Hood in Central Texas is one of the largest U.S. military bases in the world. Home to 40,000 soldiers, it serves as the headquarters for the III Corps, arguably the most powerful corps in the U.S. Army due to the number of armored units. It is also named after a general who took up arms against the United States in the name of slavery. Now Fort Hood, along with other bases named after Confederate generals, is getting a new name, the only question is what it should be.
General John Bell Hood was a traitor and a white supremacist. In a letter to Union General William T. Sherman, Hood wrote, “you make negroes your allies and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position… Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies.” But even leaving his racist views aside, there’s good reason to change the name of Fort Hood. In fact, by any metric Hood isn’t a good namesake for the biggest military base in Texas.
For one thing, Hood wasn’t even from Texas. He was born and raised in Kentucky and after the war, he lived in Louisiana until his death. Hood’s only connections to Texas are that he was once stationed in the state as a junior officer in the U.S. Army and later commanded the Texas Brigade for the Confederacy.
More importantly, Hood’s record on the battlefield is hardly stellar, as he was aggressive to the point of recklessness. After being given command of the Army of Tennessee, Hood bled it dry in a series of ill-advised and costly assaults at Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville. By the end of Hood’s tenure, the Army of Tennessee had been destroyed as an effective fighting force and he was forced to resign in disgrace.
Calls to rename Fort Hood and other bases with Confederate namesakes have been around for years, but they gained serious traction in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The most recent National Defense Authorization Act included a mandate for the Pentagon to remove Confederate names from 10 Army bases. (the Navy and Marine Corps name installations after their location while Air Force bases are either named after locations or aviators and the Confederacy obviously lacked the latter).
An eight-person Naming Commission has been created to choose new names for the bases. The commission is currently taking submissions from the public and met with members of the community at Fort Hood over the summer.
While there are many fitting suggestions that would be a far superior namesake to John Bell Hood, two names stand out. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has recommended General Richard E. Cavazos, the Army’s first four-star general. Born and raised in Texas, Cavazos served in the Korean War as a lieutenant in the 65th Infantry Regiment, a unit that consisted mostly of Puerto Ricans. Cavazos won the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor, for actions during an attack on Hill 142. Cavazos went on to win the Distinguished Service Cross again as a battalion commander in Vietnam. Fittingly, Cavazos commanded the III Corps at Fort Hood prior to being promoted to the head of U.S. Army Forces Command.
Another popular name is Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, a Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam veteran. Benavidez, who grew up an orphan in Texas and later joined the elite Special Forces, has a story that’s incredible even by Medal of Honor standards. In 1968, a 12-man Special Forces team on a secret mission in Cambodia was overrun by a force of 1,000 NVA soldiers. Benavidez volunteered to rescue his comrades and jumped into a helicopter armed with only a knife and a medical pack. Over the course of what he later described as “six hours in Hell,” Benavidez saved the lives of at least eight men, suffering 37 separate bullet, bayonet, blunt trauma, and shrapnel wounds in the process. His wounds were so severe that medical personnel thought he was dead when he arrived back at the base. A doctor was zipping up his body bag when Benavidez spat in his face to prove he was still alive. When Benavidez was presented with the Medal of Honor, President Ronald Reagan said, “if the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it”.
Either Fort Cavazos or Fort Benavidez would be a fitting new name, especially as it would be the first time a mainland U.S. military base is named after a Latino. “Latinos make up almost 19% of the country now — so almost a fifth of the country — and have served proudly over the generations in the armed forces,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D- 20) told NPR. “We think it’s only right that the contributions of different Latinos be recognized on these bases.”
The Naming Commission is set to submit its report to Congress by October 2022. The name change is required by law to occur no later than January 1, 2024.