A few years ago, the United States Army announced that one of its oldest military installations, Fort Monroe, would close down in 2011. The Fort, located near Hampton Roads, Virginia, began construction in 1819, and was finished in 1834. From that time, Fort Monroe served as an active military base, and until recently was the only moated fort still being used by the U.S. Army. Confederate General Robert E. Lee served at Fort Monroe for a time, overseeing its construction between 1831 and 1834. During the American Civil War, hundreds of slaves escaped to the Fort, becoming “contraband of war,” and served as a base for military operations throughout the four-year conflict. It would serve as an active military base through the 20th Century, and early into the new millenium.
In 2005, it was announced that the military installation at Fort Monroe would be closes as part of the Base Realignment and Closure list, which should be completed no later than September 15th, 2011. Since that announcement, may preservationists in and around Hampton Roads, as well as around the country, mobilized to build support for the preservation of the fort and the surrounding lands. Among the ideas proposed was the creation of a new National Monument to preserve the fort for future generations. That idea became a reality on November 1st, 2011, less than two months after the military base closed. On that day, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating the 585-acre site a National Monument. The President did this not just for preservation, but for economic reasons as well. He said that preserving Fort Monroe is “about helping to create jobs and grow the local economy. Steps like this won’t replace the bold action we need from Congress to get the economy moving and strengthen middle-class families but they will make a difference.”
Regardless of Obama’s reasoning for signing the proclamation, I am grateful to the President for preserving the fort for future generations. Not only is the fort an historically significant icon to America, but I also have personal connections to the area. My Grandfather, Joseph H. Hancock, served in the Coastal Artillery prior to and at the beginning of World War II, and was stationed at Fort Monroe during that time. He has shared the story of leaving for home on leave on December 7th, 1941, and was having lunch in Richmond when MP’s told the soldiers there to return to the base, because Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He and others spent the night preparing for a possible attack on the base. The next day, he sent a telegram to my Great Grandmother letting her know he was alright. He would soon transfer to the 100th Infantry Division, and go overseas to fight in Europe during the final year of war.
Back in October of 2007, my Father, Uncle and Cousin took my Grandfather on a trip to Fort Monroe to see his old training grounds. It was great to be able to take him back there, and see his reaction to being back after so many years. You could tell on his face that the memories of what happened there were still with him. And that is the main reason I am grateful to President Obama for his action in this case. Now that Fort Monroe will become a National Monument, families of other veterans who served there will be able to visit the site, and see where nearly 200 years of United States Military History took place., and where their families members learned the skills they would need to help preserve, defend and protect the United States of America.
Wheeler, Linda. “Fort Monroe in Virginia will be designated a national monument today.” The Washington Post Website, November 1st, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/house-divided/post/fort-monroe-in-virginia-will-be-designated-national-monument-today/2010/12/20/gIQA7spUcM_blog.html