Dropping the name of a Confederate leader, Fort Bragg is becoming Fort Liberty
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
After more than a century as Fort Bragg, on Friday, the Army's largest base by population officially becomes Fort Liberty. And as the old name goes, base officials are already working to bind the installation's new name to its storied history. Jay Price of member station WUNC reports.
JAY PRICE, BYLINE: And there's a lot of that history - so much in fact, there are two military museums on the city-sized base and another next door in Fayetteville. Bragg troops have played key roles in every major U.S. conflict, beginning with World War I. And now as home to the 82nd Airborne Division, the Special Forces school, and the commands over Army Airborne and Special Operations units, it's so crucial to national security, the base is often called "the center of the military universe."
DON NAUCK: For me, I've been in Europe. I've been to Korea. I've been at Fort Polk. I've been in a lot of units.
PRICE: Retired Command Sergeant Major Don Nauck was stationed all over the world in his 27 years in the Army.
NAUCK: But something about the soldiers here on Fort Bragg, the esprit de corps and the camaraderie is different, always has been.
PRICE: Nauck is now a civilian employee at Bragg and heads a task force handling the nuts and bolts of the name change. He says Bragg leaders want to underline the history behind that confident culture, so one of his biggest tasks has been overseeing the creation of what's expected to be a permanent tradition - nightly marches along a trail flanked by dozens of markers bearing short lessons about Bragg history.
NAUCK: I think it will give soldiers an understanding, and family members and veterans, that, hey, Liberty - it's a change in our history, and we always change. It is a new beginning.
PRICE: Sunset Liberty Marches are scheduled to happen 365 nights a year, regardless of weather. They'll honor service members past and present.
NAUCK: And I think this will help concrete, or put in place, that, hey, we are Liberty, and this is to represent that we're not going to forget our history. And we're going to talk about all of our history, and we're going to walk our history every day.
PRICE: Bragg is among nine Army bases that are dropping the names of Confederate leaders. The renaming, dictated by Congress, comes after a three-year process.
NAUCK: There were thousands of people we could have named, but how do you pick one of them?
PRICE: The commander of the Bragg-based 18th Airborne Corps will lead the first march, but then regular marches begin. And those leading the way won't all be famous or senior leaders. The first two, in fact, didn't even know they were going to be a part of history.
BOBBY MCINTOSH: I just learned from my wife, like, the fact that Fort Bragg is changing its name.
PRICE: Air Force Staff Sergeant Bobby McIntosh and his wife Judith, an Army specialist, signed up after her unit put around an email on the march seeking volunteers. He said both came from families that can trace military service back several generations - his to the Civil War. And it was just part of what they view as duty.
MCINTOSH: It's cool that we get to do this, and we can share our part of it. But it's like, that's not why we're doing it.
PRICE: The other eight bases will be renamed for people. Bragg leaders, though, said so many extraordinary soldiers were associated with the place, it seemed impossible to pick one. So they chose an ideal which has several ties to the base and surrounding area. The very first sign on the march underlines one of those ties - the Liberty Resolves.
LINDA CARNES MCNAUGHTON: Well, this is the precursor to the Declaration of Independence.
PRICE: Linda Carnes-McNaughton is an archaeologist and cultural resources expert with the base.
CARNES MCNAUGHTON: These were people here who declared themselves free of British control, so they decided to create this document at Liberty Point in Cumberland County. And two years later, the War of Independence takes place. These are people with their minds set to be America.
PRICE: That's the first history sign on the route. The last one, at least for now, notes the name change to Liberty. For NPR News, I'm Jay Price. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.