How a Military Base’s New Name Honors a Military Spouse and Mother

Dana Abella and her husband, John, have moved 11 times and gone through four deployments. They have three children.

Maj. Bernard Wheeler delayed a deployment several days to see his daughter’s birth in 2018. When he returned, it took her months to get used to his presence.

Alexandria Lyles has experienced five deployments and six moves. Her younger sister, Juliana, has been through four deployments and four moves.

For the first time last week, a military base was named in honor of a spouse, recognizing the full experience of military families.

Fort Benning is now officially Fort Moore, the only U.S. base named for a married couple.

Photographs and Text by Arin Yoon

Arin Yoon, a photographer and military spouse, has documented the military community for more than 10 years. She reported from Fort Moore, Ga.

Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore commanded troops in the first major battle of the Vietnam War, a role depicted in a book and a movie. His wife, Julia, was a champion for military spouses and changed the way next of kin are notified when a service member is killed.

In their honor, Fort Benning in Georgia officially became Fort Moore on Thursday as the Defense Department removes Confederate names and symbols from military property. Fort Moore is the only base named for a married couple.

“Together, Hal and Julie Moore embody the very best of our military and the very best of our nation,” Maj. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, Fort Moore’s commander, said at a ceremony marking the change, referring to General Moore by his nickname.

“By honoring them, Fort Moore recognizes the sacrifices of all veterans, especially highlighting those from Vietnam,” he added. “It also reinforces the important role Army spouses and families play in the success of our military.”

The protests over the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 led to broader conversations about racism, and calls to rename sites that honored Confederate officers who fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy. A committee created by Congress to recommend new names for nine U.S. bases selected Fort Moore for Fort Benning, which had been named for a pro-slavery general more than 50 years after the end of the Civil War.

In his remarks on Thursday, General Buzzard reflected on General Moore’s contribution to the Army’s integration. “As the commanding general of Fort Ord, California, during a time of high racial tension, Hal instituted an equal-opportunity policy banning discrimination,” he said.

Caitlin Sampson and her family live at Fort Moore. Her husband, Captain Stephen Sampson, is on the second month of a six-month deployment to Colombia.

Ms. Sampson’s sons, Wyatt and Henry, play with other families on the base, especially the “neighborhood dads,” while their father is away.

The community aspect of life on the base is essential for mothers, who are often sole caregivers. The Moore family lived in a house like this when they were stationed here.

Wyatt told his mother “some people’s daddies leave and they get hurt and they don’t come home,” but she tried to reassure him.

“When I was new to the military, other army spouses took me under their wings, and they taught me everything. It made me love the Army versus resenting how much my husband was gone,” Ms. Sampson said.

A Military Family for Life

After graduating from West Point, General Moore served in the military for more than 30 years, with assignments around the world. But he is perhaps best remembered for his leadership as a lieutenant colonel at the beginning of the Vietnam War.

In November 1965, the miliary leader took his outnumbered troops into the valley of Ia Drang, and a bloody fight ensued. The North Vietnamese troops retreated in what was considered a tactical victory for the United States. But casualties were heavy. Within 72 hours, 79 U.S. soldiers were killed, and 121 were wounded.

“In battle our world shrank to the man on our left and the man on our right and the enemy all around,” General Moore recalled in his memoir, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.” The battle and his actions were later depicted in a movie starring Mel Gibson.

Greg Moore looks through family photo albums in Auburn, Ga. Mel Gibson played his father, Hal, in the movie “We Were Soldiers.” Hal and Julie Moore share a gravestone at Fort Moore.

On the home front, military families stationed at Fort Benning began receiving Western Union telegrams bearing news of the losses of these young husbands, fathers and sons. Unaccustomed to notifying so many families at once, the Army hired taxi drivers to deliver the telegrams.

Julie Moore saw that this practice lacked compassion and humanity. “It was a very cruel way to tell a woman that her world had come to an end,” she wrote in a letter.

Memorabilia from the Moore family includes the helmet General Moore wore at Ia Drang, swagger sticks given to Ms. Moore for her leadership in the community, the pearls Ms. Moore wore to special events, and a Western Union telegram from Ms. Moore to her parents.

She and other spouses began accompanying the taxi drivers and consoling the wives upon notification. Because of her work, the Defense Department started requiring that an officer and a chaplain are present when a family is notified.

Her dedication to military families led to the development of Army Community Services, which offers educational programs and resources to help support soldiers and their families, especially through deployments and frequent moves.

Deployments and Moves

Britnee Wheeler is pregnant with her fifth child. Her husband, Major Wheeler, attends school at an Air Force base in Alabama and is rarely home on weekdays.

Ms. Wheeler works full time in human resources, in addition to starting her own company, and is the main caretaker of her four children.

Major Wheeler will start a new position at Fort Moore in July and will live at home during this assignment.

“In the military, you kind of find that secondary family to help you through it,” Ms. Wheeler said. “And you keep those relationships as you move.”

“He commissioned on a Friday, and we got married on a Sunday,” she recalled. “And we’ve been moving ever since.”

Julie and Hal Moore, who had five children, moved 28 times in 32 years. Active-duty military personnel move once every two to three years on average, according to the Defense Department, contributing to a high unemployment rate for military spouses. During deployments, training exercises, and other duty assignments, military spouses, most of whom are women, often raise children alone.

When soldiers return home, they go through a reintegration process, and families adjust as well. Children sometimes meet or get to know a parent for the first time.

Ms. Sampson led a family workout that deployed partners also practiced at the same time. The great-granddaughters of General Moore visited the base during a renaming ceremoy in honor of their family.

Major Wheeler recalled leaving home for a nine-month deployment just after the birth of his daughter. When he returned, he said, “Brooklyn wouldn’t let me pick her up.” Ms. Wheeler added: “When he came home, she didn’t want anything to do with him. She was like, ‘Why are you touching my mama?’ It was the craziest experience.”

Jasper Walls, 6, is starting to learn what life is like for a military child.

Tiffany Walls’s husband, Private First Class Justin Walls, just completed basic training and has been away from the family for months.

Although Jasper was excited to try the chow hall, Ms. Walls finds the uncertainty of military life stressful because she likes to plan ahead.

Ms. Walls and her son are staying with friends and at motels until they find out where Mr. Walls will be stationed in July.

“I kind of feel like a single mom in some ways and have a whole new respect for military spouses,” Ms. Walls said.

The Moore Legacy

At the ceremony, the Moores’ youngest son, Dave, a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel, spoke about the values his parents represented as a military family. “We believe the redesignation of Fort Benning is unique in that, by Hal and Julie Moore’s example, the Army continues to recognize Army families as essential to Army readiness and mission accomplishment,” he said.

As the ceremony ended, Rebecca Gell Workentine began to exit but paused to look back at the soldiers in the stands. She waved and a sea of hands waved back.

In 1965, she had received one of the dreaded telegrams, saying that her husband, Jack Gell, had been killed in action in Ia Drang.

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