Ft. Benning, near Columbus, Ga., is the Home of the Infantry, and one of the largest military bases in the world. It started out as Camp Benning and was created in 1918 to help train General Black Jack Pershing's American Expeditionary Force - the Doughboys who were going to put boots on the ground to help liberate France from the Germans in the first World War. (Ft. Benning was named for a Confederate general, Henry L. Benning, but don't tell anybody. Folks would probably demand that the name be changed.)
A few years ago, when my son Jackson Lee was about 9 or 10, I got to take him down to Ft. Benning for a tour of the facilities. (Jackson Lee is named for a couple of Confederate generals, too, but it will be a cold day in hell before anybody makes me change his name.)
We had a great time. We were driven all over the post by a young second lieutenant who didn't realize I was there to write a magazine article about the base. He told me some really juicy stuff, too, and almost had a conniption fit when he found out I was an "embedded journalist." His term, not mine. (If you aren't from around here, a conniption is several degrees worse than a "hissy," which is a whole 'nother type of fit.)
The young officer's secrets were safe with me, though. I have way too much respect for the United States military to say or write anything that might compromise their mission in any way. I wish that respect were universal, but I suppose that's another story for another day.
While Jackson and I were at Benning we got to watch a lot of Airborne candidates make their first jump - actually, we watched them land from their first jump - we weren't in the aircraft with them - and we toured the original Infantry Museum, which was rather old and stodgy and out of date, but still impressive because of the significance of the building's contents and the history the contents represented.
Now I told you all of that to tell you this.
A new Infantry Museum is about to open at Ft. Benning, or, more accurately, right outside its gates - and this facility will be much more befitting the legacy it attempts to honor. The official name will be The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park and will include a 190,000-square-foot museum with interactive displays covering every campaign our soldiers have fought, from 1775 to the present. But that's not all. There will also be an IMAX theater, full service restaurant - I don't think MREs are on the menu - and the obligatory gift shop.
And the museum, with its 30,000 artifacts, might not even be the most impressive part, at least not to those of us - like me - who have a deep-seated appreciation for the fact that every single liberty we enjoy as Americans was paid for with the blood of our soldiers. The most impressive part of the new complex, at least from a symbolic standpoint, might be the new parade ground, which was dedicated just this past Thursday.
The composition of this parade field, you see, is not your standard red Georgia clay - or even the black Georgia loam that is more common along Columbus's fall line. This field is made up, in part, of hallowed ground, brought to Ft. Benning from battlefields around the world; fields of honor - fields where American soldiers have fought and died to advance the cause of freedom and sustain the inalienable rights guaranteed us by Mr. Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers.
There is soil from places like Yorktown, where Cornwallis grudgingly conceded defeat in the American Revolution to George Washington, even though he, Cornwallis, wasn't man enough to face Washington himself. He had a subordinate fill in for him. Washington, not to be outdone, allowed his subordinate, Benjamin Lincoln, to receive the sword. There is soil from San Juan Hill in Cuba, where Theodore Roosevelt earned the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Spanish-American War and there is soil from the beaches of Normandy, where TR's grandson also won our nation's highest military honor. Antietam, Guadalcanal, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan - so many places around the world where brave men have fought - and died - for us.
How can we ever thank them?
The Obama administration came up with a unique way to thank them just this week. They floated a plan that would relieve the government from the responsibility of paying for medical expenses for injuries and debilitations suffered in theaters of war if the soldiers and their families had private insurance coverage. Have you ever heard of a worse idea?
Luckily there was a great uproar across the land and that notion was scrapped.
There is no group of individuals who deserve more than our fighting men, and I am glad we have taken steps, right here in Georgia, to honor our nation's soldiers. I can't wait for the museum to open in June. I plan to be one of the first people through the front door. Y'all come go with me.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.