When Geniece Baer heard that Fort Bragg would be changing its name to Fort Liberty, she had conflicting thoughts.
Baer is a Gold Star spouse, whose husband Sgt. 1st Class William Grant DePew died June 9, 2020, in Gunnison, Colorado, while serving as a senior intelligence sergeant for the Headquarters Support Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.
Ten of DePew’s 12 years of military service were at Fort Bragg, his wife said.
The story of a Gold Star mother who stood up during a meeting about Fort Bragg’s new name and told leaders that her son died for liberty resonated with Baer.
“Being able to rename our base in that big idea of liberty and what they all do ... is important,” Baer said Thursday night during the last official event on Fort Bragg before it was redesignated to Fort Liberty.
Starting at 8:23 p.m., which is 20:23 in military time and a nod to the year 2023, Baer marched with more than 200 soldiers, civilians and community members during the .6-mile Sunset to Liberty March that will carry on as a new evening tradition for Fort Liberty.
The march, she said, is about not forgetting the past while moving forward.
“I’ve been counting down, because I knew that tonight was happening for quite a while, so I was anxiously waiting to be part of today, and I plan on returning to many sunset marches and being part of this tradition,” Baer said.
The march is modeled after a daily march in Nijmegen, Holland, that honors 48 paratroopers who died liberating the area during World War II, said Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.
“This is about our ability to remember every day,” Donahue said.
Veterans, service members, and members of the community solemnly marched the route on Liberty Trail starting at Honeycutt Road.
At the midway point, when the group came upon an American flag at the end of the path, Donahue and others saluted while some placed their hands on their hearts.
Donahue told Thursday night’s crowd that everyone who “showed up” was the veteran of the day.
“Going forward, there will be one veteran of the day. They will honor those members of this installation who gave their lives … and anyone else who you want to honor,” he said.
Gold Star families remember
Donahue led Thursday night’s walk along with Gold Star mothers Maureen Miller, who honored her son, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, and Patti Elliott, who honored her son, Spc. Daniel Lucas Elliott.
Miller, 24, was killed Jan. 25, 2008, while serving as a weapons sergeant with the 3rd Special Forces Group when his unit was attacked by insurgents while conducting a combat reconnaissance patrol through the Gowardesh Valley in Afghanistan.
Charging enemy fire to provide protective fire for his team, Miller was mortally wounded.
He is credited with saving the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghanistan national army soldiers during the battle.
Spc. Daniel Lucas Elliott was a member of the Army Reserve military police who was killed by a roadside bomb July 15, 2011, in Basra, Iraq, while deployed with the Cary-based 805th Military Police Company.
The Army Reserve Center in Cary is named in his honor.
“I’m proud of all of our service men and women — what they’re fighting for is liberty,” Patti Elliott said after the march “I am so proud of the installation for holding tight to that thought and making the switch to liberty because that’s something that every service member can associate with.”
For Baer, whose husband is buried in the nearby Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery, the Sunset Liberty March path is now one she said she can take on the anniversary of her husband’s death, which is next week.
“I just feel so humbled to come here now and walk this path and have those quiet moments with myself and think about him and think about all men and women that we have lost,” Baer said.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3528.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Last event at Fort Bragg ushers in new tradition for Fort Liberty