A US Army base could be named for a Winston-Salem native, but it won’t be Lawrence Joel.
An independent commission on Tuesday recommended new names for nine bases, including one in Louisiana that would be renamed for Army Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a Black Medal of Honor winner who was born here. The commission will select a final list of names and submit it to Congress by Oct. 1.
The Naming Commission has been assigned to rename military bases named for Confederate Army officers.
Fort Polk in Louisiana would be renamed Fort Johnson, after Johnson, who served in World War I. A member of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the so-called “Harlem Hellfighters,” Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2015.
According to research from Fam Brownlee, a local historian, Johnson was born in the town of Winston around 1892. His family moved to Albany, NY, when he was a teenager.
War broke out in Europe in 1914, although the United States did not enter the conflict until April 6, 1917.
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“He enlisted in the US Army June 5, 1917, and was assigned to Company C, 15th New York Infantry Regiment — an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment,” according to an army.mil biography of Medal of Honor recipients.
On May 15, 1918, then-Pvt. Johnson was on sentry duty on the front lines in Western France. He and another soldier were attacked by a German patrol of at least 12 soldiers. The other soldier was wounded by shrapnel, leaving Johnson to fight off the invaders.
A Defense Department article on Johnson said he killed one German with a rifle shot, knocked another one down using his rifle as a club, killed two with a bolo knife, and killed one with a grenade.
The commission received 34,000 submissions for the renaming of the military bases, retired Army Brig. General Ty Seidule said.
Joel’s name was on an initial list of 87 under consideration for the new name of Fort Bragg.
Joel, a Black native of Winston-Salem, was an Army medic in South Vietnam. During a battle in November 1965, Joel took care of his fellow soldiers, despite he had not been wounded twice during the battle.
He was credited with saving at least 13 soldiers and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.
The Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem is named after him.
In addition, Fort Bragg’s Lawrence Joel Health and Dental Clinic is named after him.
The commission is recommending that Fort Bragg be renamed Fort Liberty.
“Throughout our history, liberty remains the greatest value,” Seidule said. “Ever since the nation created a standing army to provide for the common defense, the army’s greatest battles have been for liberty.”
The commission’s recommendations are the latest step in a broader effort by the military to confront racial injustice, most recently in the aftermath of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
For years, US military officials had defended the naming of bases after Confederate officers. As recently as 2015, the Army argued that the names did not honor the rebel cause but were a gesture of reconciliation with the South.
But in the aftermath of the Floyd killing, and the months of racial unrest that followed, the Pentagon and Congress pushed for a comprehensive plan to rename the military posts and hundreds of other federal assets such as roads, buildings, memorials, signs and landmarks that honored rebel leaders.
Other recommended new names are:
•Fort Gordon, Georgia, would be Fort Eisenhower, commemorating President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led allied forces in Europe in World War II.
•Fort Pickett, Virginia, would be named after Tech Sgt. Van Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in World War II
•Fort Rucker, Alabama, would be named Fort Novosel, after Chief Warrant Officer Michael Novosel, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in World War II and Vietnam.
•Fort AP Hill, Virginia, would be renamed Fort Walker, after Mary Edwards Walker, a doctor who treated soldiers in the Civil War and later received a Medal of Honor.
•Fort Hood, Texas, would be renamed Fort Cavazos, in honor of Gen. Richard Cavazos, who served in the Korean War, received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award, and became the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.
•Fort Benning, Georgia, would be named after a married couple: Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who served in Vietnam and received the Distinguished Service Cross, and his wife Julia, who prompted the creation of teams that do in-person notifications of military casualties.
•Fort Lee, Virginia, would get a hyphenated name — Fort Gregg-Adams — to honor Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Gregg, a logistics leader, and Lt. Col. Charity Adams, who led the first female Black unit of the Army deployed in World War II.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism