At 95, retired Black Army officer sees his name replace Robert E. Lee's at Petersburg base
Retired three-star Army General Arthur Gregg, who turns 95 this week, has lived long enough to see his name take the place of Robert E. Lee's at a military installation.
Fort Lee in Petersburg was recently renamed Fort Gregg-Adams after two prominent Black Army officers, including General Gregg.
Gregg is still alive and lives in Northern Virginia. He's is one of only a couple people to have an installation named after him while he was still alive.
Lt. Col. Charity Adams — the highest ranking Black woman in the army during World War II -- shares the base's new name with Gregg. She died in 2002.
Fort Lee was one of 9 bases named after a confederate leader, which Congress required the Army to rename.
Fort Gregg-Adams is the first of the nine Army bases to be officially renamed at a ceremony in April.
Discussing Robert E. Lee’s legacy, Gregg acknowledged Lee had been a West Point graduate and was considered a capable army officer early on in his career.
“But at a crucial time in the history of America, he resigned his commission from the United States Army and joined the Confederacy,” Gregg said. “And that is not the example that we want to put in front of the soldiers who enter Fort Lee. So the change in the name was appropriate and long overdue.”
Gregg was born in South Carolina in 1928. He attended high school in Newport News and enlisted in the army while there.
"Many soldiers came to visit our town and I was impressed with their uniform and I was impressed with their conduct,” he said.
He planned to be a medical lab technician. After he enlisted, Gregg passed the tests and was given the military job classification, but when he got to Germany for his first assignment, he was told there were no Black soldiers working with the hospital.
“Well, I was disappointed, of course, and I made an effort to get the assignment, but failed,” he said.
“So I operated on the basis that when you find one door closed, you knock on a second one.”
He pivoted to logistics, where he rose through the ranks in the years leading up to Vietnam. In 1966, he was sent there to command a unit at Cam Ranh Bay. Initially, Gregg said his battalion didn’t have the staff or equipment to deploy.
When he arrived, the base was still being established. The Army began placing other units under his command, including units that had nothing to do with logistics. A total of 18 companies were placed under his leadership, making it one of the largest Army battalions of the war.
“You can look at it as a mess or you can look at it as an opportunity,” he said. “I felt it was my job — to get that battalion ready and to deploy on time. And that's what we did.”
“I often cite the command of that battalion as the most satisfying assignment of my 35-year career in the Army,” he said.
Gregg retired in 1981 as the first Black three-star general in the U.S. Army.
Now, Black servicemembers occupy some of the most high-profile positions in the military: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is a retired Army general; Air Force General Charles Q. Brown Junior has been tapped by the president to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Still, Black Americans are underrepresented at the highest military ranks.
“We are not where we would ideally be in terms of the senior ranks,” Gregg said. “But I believe that there is a commitment on the part of the Army leadership to get us to that point. And I have confidence that that effort will continue.”