A street inside New York City’s only Army base will soon bear the name of a Black officer who died saving others in Vietnam — instead of the name of the Confederate general who led the South’s attempt at secession.
The street will be renamed John Warren Avenue on Friday to honor First Lt. John Earl Warren Jr., a Brooklynite who was just 22 when he was killed in the Vietnam War. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for his valor. It had been called “General Lee Avenue” after Robert E. Lee, who served at the base 20 years before the Civil War.
The new name will be unveiled at a ceremony at the base, Fort Hamilton, which sits on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The change comes after a yearslong push by local officials that gained steam amid the nationwide outcry over the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis two years ago.
At least 230 Confederate symbols have been taken down, moved or renamed in recent years, though thousands remain, mostly in the South.
“The names of our military assets should appropriately reflect the courage, values and sacrifices of our diverse military men and women, and First Lt. John Warren Jr. is a great example of all that,” Connie Dillon, a spokeswoman for the garrison, said in an email.
“He is a local hero and he displayed the courage and values that our soldiers can emulate,” she said, adding that the switch had been in the works for almost two years and had to be approved by the Army.
Lieutenant Warren grew up in Crown Heights, where he was raised by his parents, Lillian Warren, a transit authority worker, and John Warren, a veteran who worked in maintenance at a nursing home.
His younger sister, Gloria Warren-Baskin, 70, still lives in the neighborhood. Though five years apart, the siblings shared the same birthday: Nov. 16.
“He’s never forgotten,” Ms. Warren-Baskin said in an interview. “Every time I have a birthday, I salute him too.”
Ms. Warren-Baskin, a retired secretary for a labor union, broke down in tears as she recalled the impact that the loss had on her tight-knit family.
They had attended Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill, as she still does, and her brother enjoyed church activities, dancing and bowling. He was a serious and outgoing young man, she said.
Lieutenant Warren was a student at Brooklyn College when he was drafted into the Army. He tried to make the best of it, enrolling in officer school and a leadership course. She remembers accompanying him to the airport when he was deployed to Vietnam in 1968.
“I said to him, ‘Don’t be no hero,’” she recalled. “But he never looked back at us. He just kept going, and years later I thought about it; did he know he wasn’t coming back home?”
He was leading a platoon that came under heavy fire on Jan. 14, 1969. As his men advanced toward an enemy position, a grenade landed in the middle of their group. He fell in the direction of the grenade and was killed, shielding at least three men from injury or death, according to his Medal of Honor citation.
“First Lt. Warren’s ultimate action of sacrifice to save the lives of his men was in keeping with the highest traditions of military service,” it read.
Ms. Warren-Baskin and her parents traveled to Washington in 1970 to receive the award from President Richard Nixon. The medal is now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection.
Ms. Warren-Baskin said she was “ecstatic” to learn about the renaming in her home borough.
“It’s a great honor that he was chosen,” she said of her brother.
In the coming weeks, the base will also remove the name of Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general, from a separate street. It is already co-named Washington Drive, and that name will remain, Ms. Dillon said.
New York officials had called on Fort Hamilton to remove Lee’s and Jackson’s names in 2017, after neo-Nazis and right-wing militias marched in Charlottesville, Va. At the time, the Army had said doing so would be “controversial and divisive.”
City Councilman Justin Brannan, who represents the area around the base and was one of the officials who had pushed for the change, applauded the Army’s reversal of its position.
“Not only did Robert E. Lee lead some of the Confederacy’s most consequential victories in their fight to protect slavery; he was also a traitor to his own country,” Mr. Brannan said.
“I can think of no better antidote than renaming this street in honor of John Earl Warren Jr., a Brooklyn-born hero.”
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