(Featured photo is of Col. Reginald Evans, garrison commander, inspecting the new colors of Fort Eisenhower during Friday’s re-designation ceremony, Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
Soldiers and the city of Augusta held special places in the heart of Dwight David Eisenhower, the five-star general led the nation’s troops during World War II and later served as the country’s 34th president.
So, it was fitting, according to military officials and members of his family, that on Friday, Fort Gordon was re-designated to become Fort Eisenhower in his honor.
“He is 100% the absolute perfect name for this installation,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton, commanding general, Fort Eisenhower and U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, at a media roundtable event prior to the start of Friday’s re-designation ceremony.
Stanton pointed to Eisenhower’s leadership on and off the battlefield and his character.
“He was a steady leader who drove his middle way. He resonated with his soldiers because he was a soldier and leader of character. On this installation, we recognize his advocacy for innovation and driving the future,” he said.
The ceremony on Barton Field brought in members of the community and elected officials as well as soldiers who sat in bleachers.
It was on the same field 62 years ago that Eisenhower gave his final speech to soldiers.
Stanton opened his speech with Eisenhower’s words from that cold January day in 1961.
“’As I have this chance to say goodbye to you, I hope that you will understand that my heart will always be filled with admiration for you, and there will be in my soul a certain nostalgia as I see a uniform, whether it be a single soldier on the streets or when I see a unit marching in a parade,’” said Stanton in quoting Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, one of six children, didn’t take a straight road to college, according to his granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower who was also one of the speakers. His parents were financially strapped and couldn’t afford college. Eisenhower helped his older brother into college and only made it into the United States Military Academy West Point after another man failed his physical.
He would go on to serve as the supreme allied commander of the western forces during World War II, and he oversaw Operation Overlord, possibly better known to most as D-Day, Invasion of Normandy.
Also attending Friday’s ceremony was Louis Graziano, who was part of that battle in Normandy, and is likely the last living witness of the formal German surrender at the schoolhouse in Reims, France. The Thomson resident, who marked his 100th birthday in February, ran Eisenhower’s phone lines in France and met the general during the war.
Graziano has a niece who is in the Navy serving aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, spoke at both the ceremony and the roundtable, offering insight into Gen. Eisenhower’s feelings about Augusta.
“He loved his place,” she said. “It offered a kind of respite and an opportunity to let his brain rest in addition to the fact there were so many kind and supportive people in this community when he was alive,” she said during the roundtable.
When he came to Augusta, he liked to spend time playing golf and painting to relax. Playing golf, however, could bring its own form of exasperation, she said during her speech at the ceremony.
“Only occasionally merriment was mixed with frustration when he hit golf balls into what he regarded as a very ‘poorly positioned’ tree on the 17th fairway at Augusta National,” she said.
The renaming of Fort Gordon to Fort Eisenhower is part of a process that began in 2020, removing links to the Confederacy in Department of Defense-related buildings, street names and military bases. Fort Gordon was the last of nine military bases to have their names officially changed.
Retired Rear Admiral Michelle Howard, who chaired the renaming committee, also attended Friday’s roundtable.
She said the community both on and off Fort Eisenhower overwhelmingly supported the name of Eisenhower when it came to deciding upon a new name for the base.
“I have never seen a group so aligned,” she said.
They were the ones who told the commission they wanted the name of Eisenhower for the former Fort Gordon.
“It made sense to use it,” she said.
Eisenhower resonated with Howard on many levels. As a naval officer, she saw Eisenhower’s leadership at D-Day as a “milestone archetype,” and as an African American woman, she saw Eisenhower as a commander-in-chief supporting Civil Rights by sending the military to protect Arkansas school children after the Supreme Court upheld desegregation laws.
She also saw Eisenhower as a man from the “heart of America” like the many sons and daughters who continue to serve in the nation’s military to this day.
The Barton Field ceremony had much pomp including the firing of cannons, a military band and an unveiling of the new main signs via video feed on large screens. A bust of Eisenhower was revealed.
“If Dwight Eisenhower were here today, he would be full of heart-felt appreciation for the focus and dedication this community has placed on serving our country and keeping it safe. You, who serve here at Fort Eisenhower, are truly an inspiration for us all,” said Susan Eisenhower in ending her speech.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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