‘Liberty For All’: Fort Bragg becomes Fort Liberty in Army ceremony

Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Liberty on Friday June 2, 2023. Stan Gilliland

FORT LIBERTY — After the cannons were fired and the colors were swapped, Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue stepped to the microphone to address the crowd of community members, Gold Star families and soldiers past and present.  

“Welcome to Fort Liberty,” he said, “the Center of the Universe.”  

The crowd of onlookers erupted in cheers at the mention of the old nickname for Fort Bragg. They then joined together to sign a rousing rendition of the Army Song, and with that, the base with more than 100 years of military history had a new name. 

Signage indicated the Army base Fort Liberty at the All American Gate on Friday June 2, 2023. Stan Gilliland

Fort Bragg was now Fort Liberty.  

The renaming was part of a Department of Defense initiative that sought to rename all military installations that were named after Confederate soldiers. Nine bases will eventually have new names. Bragg’s rededication brings the total number of renamings that have been completed to a half-dozen.  

Fort Bragg was named in 1918, honoring Gen. Braxton Bragg, a soldier from Warrenton who served in the Confederacy. He also fought for the U.S. Army in the Mexican-American War, which was the basis for his receiving the honor at the time.  

While the other eight bases on the DOD list, including Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos), Fort Benning (now Moore) and Fort Polk (next on the list to be rededicated later this month, as Fort Johnson), honored a particular soldier, the North Carolina base that has been the home to Special Forces, the 82nd Airborne and dozens of other units opted not to choose a name that honored another individual.  

“Liberty has always been ingrained in this area,” Donahue said. “It is in the fabric and identity of all our units.” 

He pointed out that one of the first accords promising to fight for liberty from Great Britain was signed in Fayetteville in 1775.  

“Gen. (Joseph) McNeil, when he was a kid, went down to the port of Wilmington and his father showed him lines and lines of liberty ships and our willingness to do anything to ensure liberty for others,” Donahue said. “That same port today sends out everything that is required for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”  

Donahue quoted the 82nd Airborne song “All-American Soldier,” which describes the unit as “the soldiers of liberty,” and pointed out that liberty is prominent in the motto for Special Forces. 

“You’ll find liberty etched in the hearts of everyone that gave their lives to this installation,” he said.  

The total cost of the renaming, originally estimated at $6.37 million, is now expected to be around $8 million, and most of the work was already completed in advance of the official renaming ceremony.  

“That includes the signage and changeover for some of the equipment for IT,” said Fort Liberty Garrison Commander Col. John Wilcox. “You’ve got to go in and make adjustments for computers to make sure you still get your email, and other critical systems are running.”  

Officials pointed out that anyone who used GPS to reach the base on Friday morning may have noticed that most major systems already referred to Fort Liberty by its new name, a tribute to the IT work that had taken place.  

“We were established in 1918, so we’re going to find something that still says Fort Bragg,” Wilcox said. “We’ve done the best we can to find all the front-facing signage, and we’re going to continue to identify those and get them changed.”  

In general, the parties involved in Friday’s ceremony seemed ready to put the name change behind them and get on to the business of the base.  

“It doesn’t matter what the name of this installation is, to be honest with you,” Donahue said. “It’s who the people are.”  

“The name changes, the mission does not change,” base spokesperson Cheryle Rivas echoed. 

The ceremony included a 15-gun salute from a battery of cannons, as well as the casing of the garrison colors for Fort Bragg, to be replaced by the garrison colors for Liberty. After a few words from Donahue and the Army song, it was over after about 20 minutes. 

“We fight on the field of battle and help our own,” Donahue said. “We don’t do lavish.”  

To the assembled soldiers, he said, “I only wish that any nation, adversary or person who wishes our nation ill will could be here today. Because if they were, they would see that it is not in their interest to contend with us. But if they choose poorly, I can promise that we will go to any ends of the world and any sacrifice to defeat you and ensure the liberty of our fellow citizens. 

“Welcome to Fort Liberty,” he concluded. “Our nation’s first call when liberty needs defending. Thank you all for being here today. Liberty for all.”