Fort Pickett, Virginia, will be the first Army installation to be renamed as part of a service-wide plan this year to scrub base names that honor Confederate rebels who waged war against the United States.
Fort Pickett, an Army National Guard installation 60 miles south of Richmond, will be redesignated Fort Barfoot on Friday, honoring Col. Van T. Barfoot, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient with deep Virginia ties.
"It is such a tremendous honor to name an installation where military forces train to defend our freedoms in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot," Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia, said in a statement. "His magnificent military career was marked by heroism and decades of selfless service to our nation, and his legacy will serve as an inspiration for current and future generations of service members."
Eight other Army bases are set to be renamed after recommendations from the congressionally mandated Naming Commission, a committee formed to review the military's references to the Confederate rebels who seceded from the United States, largely to protect and grow the slave trade, spurring the Civil War.
Barfoot enlisted in the Army in 1940 and later earned his Medal of Honor through heroic actions during an assault in Italy in May 1944. At the time a technical sergeant, equivalent to a sergeant first class today, Barfoot crawled toward a German machine-gun position that was pinning down his unit. He threw a grenade, killing two Germans and injuring an additional three, according to his award citation. He moved to another machine-gun position and killed two more Germans and took three prisoners, prompting one of the final enemy machine-gun teams to surrender to Barfoot. He went on to capture 17 prisoners total.
Later that same day, the Germans launched a counterattack against Barfoot's platoon. Facing multiple enemy tanks, Barfoot fired a bazooka at one, disabling it and killing the crew. He then grabbed two seriously wounded American soldiers and carried them to a safe position 1,700 yards away.
Barfoot went on to serve a long Army career, deploying to both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He retired in 1970 and died in 2012, in Richmond, at the age of 92.
Meanwhile, George Pickett, the installation's original namesake, was a poorly performing cadet and ranked last in the West Point class of 1846. When the Civil War began, there was a high demand for junior officers in the Confederate forces, and he eventually moved his way up the ranks. He is most famous for the so-called "Pickett's Charge," ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee during the Battle of Gettysburg, a bungled attempt for a swift battlefield victory that cost the Confederates dearly. Pickett led three divisions to move roughly one mile across an open field, but they were severely punished by Union artillery and gunfire. The high-profile blunder ended with more than 5,000 Confederates dead or wounded, about half of their entire force in the battle. The Union lost 1,500 soldiers during the engagement.
Last week, the service also mandated National Guard units that once fought for the Confederacy strip Civil War battle streamers from their guidons. Many of those units were key in early Southern victories but had those rebel combat awards attached to the same unit flags as streamers earned through American battles in World War II and the Global War on Terrorism.
Other bases set to be redesignated include Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Fort Hood, Texas. It's unclear when those posts will be renamed, but the changes are expected to occur within a year.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.