Intensifying debates over whether to rename military installations bearing the monikers of failed Confederate leaders prompted President Donald Trump to step in Wednesday and declare his administration would “not even consider” a potential morally-driven rebranding initiative.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” the president tweeted. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars.
“Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Some have suggested that renaming bases named in honor of enemies who oversaw the killing of actual U.S. military personnel would be a form of respect for current U.S. military personnel, but then again we reside in The Upside-Down.
White House staff, meanwhile, doubled down on its immovable stance during a press conference with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who claimed that “Men and women who lost their lives as they went out to Europe in Afghanistan and Iraq … a lot of times the very last place they saw was one of these forts.”
“And to suggest that these forts were somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to those men and women.”
Ah, yes. Who could forget the deep-seated relationship between the installations on which we served — places we were inexplicably eager to abandon the moment weekend liberty sounded — and the preservation of our emotional ties to the United States?
McEnany: “To suggest these forts are somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women, who the last bit of American land they saw before they went overseas and lost their lives were these forts” pic.twitter.com/4pMAJe5fsd
— Dave Brown (@dave_brown24) June 10, 2020
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When the day came in late 2005 to leave for my first deployment, I found myself as part of a formation boarding one of a series of buses staged in Camp Pendleton’s 62 Area. The mood was collectively grim. I looked around the bus — after awkwardly adjusting my rifle sling to allow for a semi-comfortable seated position — and saw a thousand-yard stare wash across the face of the Marine seated across the aisle.
“This is the worst day of my life,” he muttered to no one in particular, the unbearable weight of his words muffled by the seat cushion in front of him on which his crestfallen head rested.
On those hallowed Pendleton parade decks parents of Marines and corpsmen waved, struggling to maintain stoic faces as spouses and children scattered throughout the crowd wept openly. Each onlooker believed their emotions to be reciprocated by the overt melancholia displayed by the camouflaged men looking out from the bus windows.
But ours were not tears shed for loved ones, as I then believed.
Older and wiser, I now know it was not having to say goodbye to his wife and infant daughter that sent him into an emotional spiral, but the torment that resulted from bidding farewell to such loves as the San Mateo PX, barracks, and obstacle course.
I would deploy three times over the course of my four-year enlistment. Each departure for unpredictable hostilities yielded more despondent faces who, like the Marine I saw, were leaving behind the only piece of their hearts that mattered: The wildfire-charred trees and poop-colored grass of Camp Pendleton.
Overseas in a Pendleton-less Iraq, every day proved more difficult than the last.
With actions that made no sense prior to today’s enlightenment, Marines penned love letters addressed simply to “Pendleton.” Crowded living quarters on Camp Fallujah were quickly adorned — wall to wall — with explicit photos of the base’s voluptuous sun-kissed hills. And plywood phone centers guarded by “Jambo!”-shouting Ugandan soldiers overflowed with personnel calling the installation’s 15-plus barber shops — desperate just to hear the voice of anyone on base.
Newly-informed service members will inevitably share the post-loving sentiment of the press secretary, especially at highlighted installations such as Fort Bragg, a base named during the Jim Crow era in honor of the slave-owning, inept Confederate leader Gen. Braxton Bragg, who employed military tactics an ROTC student would perceive as bad strategy.
Or, we’ll all continue in our exhausting realization of how nothing makes sense any more.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Camp Pendleton is my home. Thy commissaries and thy Subways, they comfort me.
About J.D. Simkins
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times who was a Marine scout observer from 2004-2008. He ugly cried when the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup.