FORT LIBERTY — The third meeting to determine the new name for Fort Bragg ran on, with some of the top officials in the U.S. military making emotional arguments that their recommendation should be heeded. Finally, the small, blonde civilian woman decided she’d heard enough.
“I’m not one to keep quiet,” said Patti Elliott, a Gold Star mother who had been invited to join the renaming committee as a representative of the families left behind by a soldier killed in action.
“I kind of just raised my hand,” she said, “and I said, ‘With all due respect.’”
With that, Elliott was able to bring all the competing sides together and resolve the debate, eventually giving Fort Liberty its new name.
Nine bases around the country were slotted for renaming by the Department of Defense. Eight of them chose deserving soldiers without a connection to the Confederacy as their new name. The North Carolina base bounded in1918 was the only one to choose a value instead, likely because it was the only base to invite Elliott to its renaming committee.
Gold Star mother
Elliott smiles when she talks about her youngest son.
“He’s probably sitting in heaven, shaking his head,” she said.
Her son, Spc. Daniel Lucas Elliott, was a member of the Army Reserve’s 290th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command out of Cary. He was killed in action in Iraq in July 2011, earning the Bronze Star and Purple Heart among other medals.
“I was his FRG (Family Readiness Group) leader,” his mother Patti recalled. “I’ve always been that involved — team mom, room mom. It would not surprise him in the least that I had my say and stood up for what I believe.”
What she believed was that for much of the first three meetings, the renaming group had been wasting its time over a pointless debate.
Whom to honor?
The problem was too many worthy candidates, as Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue listed in his remarks at the renaming ceremony.
“The list included many legendary names,” he said.
Cases were made for Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, killed in Mogadishu in 1993.
“Several times, they requested to go in and save their fellow crew members,” Donahue explained. “They knew they were going to their death and still went.”
Roy Benavidez, who will be the namesake of the former Donelson Street on the base, also had supporters.
“He got onto an aircraft without a weapon as an 18 Series medic, and he went in and fought,” Donahue said.
Sgt. Alvin York, who inspired a popular comic and movie, was another candidate.
“Probably one of the greatest soldiers we’ve ever had, and probably one of the greatest stories of an American soldier,” Donahue added.
There were others: 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk, who won a silver star at D-Day, a Distinguished Service Cross at Operation Market Garden and the Medal of Honor at the Battle of the Bulge; a long list of Medal of Honor recipients, some of whom got the consolation prize of having base roads named after them, such as Robert Miller and Sidney Shachnow.
“Some of you drove through Miller Gate today,” Donahue said, “and you drove down Miller Road.”
The large number of worthy candidates led to a deadlocked committee.
“I appreciated that everyone had their special interest group that they were representing,” Elliott said. “That’s exactly what they were there to do — to advance their cause. I totally got that. But, as each one spoke, they were leaving out this one or that one or the one over there.”
“Every name was considered and debated,” Donahue said. “Ultimately, any of them could have been chosen, but a consensus could not be reached on just one. How could you choose any and leave any of those others behind? There was no right one. There were no names that could define what this post is all about.”
For that, it took a mom who had experienced the greatest loss imaginable.
“In the midst of all these debates, Ms. Patti stepped forward,” Donahue said. “She had the intestinal fortitude, the guts to challenge us, to raise our consciousness. What she said was, ‘My son died for liberty.’ What she said was, ‘We have to think bigger. We have to be better. This post is more than a name. In fact, liberty has always been here.’ She made us look around.”
Elliott isn’t sure she’s worthy of the credit the Army gave her.
“I don’t know that I did that,” she said. “I’m just an ordinary person put into extraordinary circumstances and given the opportunity to make a difference. I felt it was important to do something that honored every single one of the thousands of soldiers that have come through Fort Bragg before and those that are yet to come.”
In the end, the value her son fought and died for was the one that the base took as its new name.
“That’s the beauty of what Patti did,” Donahue said. “It raised our vision. We became more conscious of who we really are. It is about liberty. This is about America. This is about what we all stand up for. It took a Gold Star mom to get all of us out of our silos and do what is right.”
Patti Elliott was just doing what her son did, standing up for his fellow soldiers.
“I hope he’s incredibly proud,” she said. “I hope he’s up there saying, ‘That’s my momma!’”