History usually belongs to the victors. Although the Union won the Civil War and saved democracy in the United States, there are more than 2,000 Confederate monuments, place names, and other symbols that remain in public places across the country. This disturbing fact is found in a 2019 report from Southen Poverty Law Center in Atlanta.
the “Lost Cause” regained political power and named numerous towns and counties after Confederate officers or slaveholders. In Texas, at least 26 counties, more than in any other state, were named for Confederate officers.
In an earlier essay, I wrote that the history of Texas has long been taught without an adequate discussion of inequality, discrimination, and violence against people of color. An insensitivity to racial issues has been evident in the way Texas honored Confederate soldiers, individuals who took up arms against the United States. Previous Texas civic and political leaders thought nothing about erecting monuments to Confederate soldiers and naming local schools for Confederate officers, most often General Robert E. Lee.
Fort Hood north of Austin is among the nine military bases named after Confederates in the South. Confederate General John Bell Hood, who gained notoriety during the Civil War for commanding the Texas Brigade, fought the Union forces in at least 24 battles in 1862, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
The Naming Commission reports to the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The Commission is about
to end the process of recognizing soldiers for their rebellion against the United States. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s appointment of a commission to rename military bases that have honored Confederate leaders includes Texan Larry Romo, National Commander of the American G.I. Forum, and three retired generals, a retired admiral, a former drill sergeant, a civilian defense policy expert, and a U.S. congressman.
National Public Radio reported that The Naming Commission is currently taking suggestions from the public regarding what to rename some of the military installations with titles linked to the Confederacy. Nine Army posts named for Confederate officers, another named for a former slave plantation, and two U.S. Navy ships are under consideration for renaming.
The Commission has begun its work to build a plan to rename nine army installations carrying the names of Confederate generals and to remove other names and symbols from Defense Department properties and assets honoring those who served the Confederate States of America. Pentagon officials noted that the commission was created by the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law January 1 after the U.S. Senate and House voted to override then-President Donald Trump’s veto of the annual policy and spending bill.
Describing the mission of the Commission, Representative Anthony Brown, D-Md., an army veteran and member of House Armed Services Committee, commented that “Men who fought to preserve the institution of slavery and betrayed our country to defend white supremacy do not deserve to be honored by our military.” He added: “This commission is tasked with a serious mandate, to recommend redesignations that honor Americans who embody the values to which we aspire and reflect our nation’s diversity.”
Representative Joaquin Castro, former Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has been one of the more active House members committed to seeing that Hispanics are recognized in the renaming process. The Dallas Morning News reported “The caucus had previously suggested renaming the Army’s Fort Hood for Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a
much-decorated Texas native who fought in Vietnam. But now it wants to rename Fort Bragg in North Carolina for the late Benavidez.”
The Military Times commented that the recent the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act required the Department of Defense “to stand up a commission and rename all Confederate ‘items’ which included not only posts and ships but street names, buildings,” and other Confederate memorials by fall 2023. With this significant process in mind, I recently submitted the name of Cleto Luna Rodriguez to the Commission with hopes that its members will consider him either for a base naming or the naming of another military site.
Cleto Luna Rodriguez was working as a newsboy at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio when he left for military service in World War II. After brief training, he shipped out to the Philippine Islands as a rifleman with Company B, 148th
Infantry, 37th Division. In a firefight with Japanese soldiers at the Paco Railroad Station, Rodriguez and a fellow rifleman managed to kill 35 enemy soldiers and knock out a 20mm gun.
Following two more hours of fighting, Rodriguez and his fellow soldier killed an additional 47 enemy soldiers. His partner was wounded and died before they could return to camp. Two days later, Rodriguez eliminated seven more enemy soldiers single-handedly and knocked out a large 20mm gun.
The Hispanic Congressional Caucus strongly recommended the naming of Fort Hood for Brigadier General Richard Cavazos, the first Hispanic Army four-star general. The Dallas Morning News reported that “General Cavazos was raised in Kingsville, Texas and served as a previous commander of III Corps headquartered at Ft. Hood.” A letter from the Hispanic Congressional Caucus noted that Cavazos “overcame racism and other obstacles throughout his 33 years of service and eventually led the U.S. Army Forces Command, making him one of the highest-ranked Army officials of his time.”
Virgil Fernandez in his book Hispanic Military Heroes documented Cavazos’s brilliant military career. Cavazos fought in Korea and Vietnam. In the Korean War, Cavazos earned a Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross for heroic action while engaged in two fierce battles. More recognition would come with his service in Vietnam. When he retired, Cavazos was one of the most decorated soldiers of the Post WWII era,
holding two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, a Distinguished Flying Cross, five Bronze Stars with Valor, a Purple Heart, and two Distinguished Service Crosses.
It is essential that the legacy of Latinos be recognized in this important renaming process. I encourage everyone to submit names of the many Latinos who have made significant contributions to secure the liberty and values of the United States.