What a Hero!: New York Street Named for Confederate General Now Honors Black Vietnam Vet Who Selflessly Threw Himself Over an Explosive to Save Others

A street in Brooklyn, where New York’s only Army base is located, will be renamed from the name of a disgraced Confederate general to that of a heralded Black American war hero. The soldier receives this honor posthumously after demonstrating extraordinary courage by saving others during his tour in Vietnam.

What a Hero!: New York Street Named for Confederate General Now Honors Black Vietnam Vet Who Selflessly Threw Himself Over an Explosive to Save Others
First Lt. John Earl Warren Jr (Wikipedia)

On Friday, May 20, the city changed General Lee Avenue, the main street of the Fort Hamilton Army base, which sits on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, to John Warren Avenue in honor of First Lt. John Earl Warren Jr, a Brooklyn native killed in combat at the age of 22.

Warren, while serving the nation during the Vietnam conflict, threw his body on a grenade to save the lives of three of his platoon members in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam in 1969, receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for his valor after he was laid to rest.

The lieutenant’s sister Gloria Warren-Baskin, who has been pushing for the name change since 2019, attended the celebration, initiated by Col. Craig Martin, commander of the garrison, who said he wanted to see this name change since July 2020.

“This is a big deal because my brother was born and raised in Brooklyn, attended the public schools in Brooklyn. This is an honor to have a street sign here at Fort Hamilton Army Base with his name on it, in Brooklyn, his home,” Baskin-Warren said. 

She continued, “When Army personnel and their family members and retirees walk along John Warren Avenue and say to themselves ‘Who was John Warren?’ I hope that they would take the time to look his name up and know that he is deserving of this honor, that he sacrificed his life to save three of his Army men.”

John Warren Avenue now extends from the main artery where the visitors’ entrance is to the other side of the base.

Many are wondering why a northern street would be named after Robert E. Lee, an officer who served in the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War and was eventually appointed as the commander of the Confederate States Army. The avenue was named after him because he was stationed at the Bay Ridge fort before the Civil War. 

Activists, politicians and others have worked diligently to have the name changed, however, Brooklyn Paper reported the Army, which held final authority over the street name, would not change it.  

In 2015, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network had a rally to denounce the name of General Lee Avenue after nine Black South Carolina churchgoers were shot to death by a gunman who championed the Confederacy.

The city councilmember, who represents Fort Hamilton, Justin Brannan, said he was happy about the change and considered Warren an excellent choice.

“I can think of no better antidote for a street dedicated to a racist traitor than renaming it in honor of a Black American hero who lived at the height of the Civil Rights movement and died fighting for his country in selfless sacrifice,” Brannan wrote on Twitter. 

“I am grateful the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton is using this opportunity to honor the loyalty to country and basic human decency of people like John Earl Warren Jr. who unlike Robert E. Lee represent the best of who we are as Americans.”

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