The History that Haunts Us – Fort Benning

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

It’s not all fun and games. Some of the stories that haunt our history leave me feeling a little bit sad. Like the story of Barbara King, the young daughter of Maj. Gen. Campbell King, who commanded Fort Benning from 1929 to 1933. Barbara fell in love with her father’s driver, a young enlisted Soldier, which didn’t sit well with the general (who was married to his first cousin, for Pete’s sake!) When her father sent his driver away for another assignment, Barbara decided life wasn’t worth living. The post newspaper offered condolences to the Gen. and Mrs. Campbell over their daughter’s death due to a “sudden and unexpected illness” in January of 1933.

Former residents say Barbara occasionally pays a visit to Riverside, her former home, in the form of a “sweet, gentle spirit,” though on one occasion, a Christmas day nearly 25 years ago, she grew angry or maybe mischievous and flung packages and books and anything she could get her hands all across the living room. The family decided to go out for dinner, probably Chinese.

It’s a different kind of ghost that haunts us over the death of Pvt Phelix Hall, a 19-year-old black Soldier with the 24th Infantry Regiment, who was lynched on Fort Benning in April of 1941 in a wooded area not far from Main Post. Though national outrage led to an investigation and several potential suspects were identified, the attack on Pearl Harbor eight months later diverted attention from the murder, and the case was eventually dropped. Sadly, it remains unsolved.

Though Hall’s murder was the only known lynching on a U.S. military base in American history, it was not the only hanging on Fort Benning. The next time you visit the Main Post Cemetery, look to the northeast, near the outer brick wall, and you’ll find the graves of privates Curn Jones and John O’Conner, who were executed by hanging from a tree in 1945. Jones and O’Conner had been taken prisoner after going AWOL and were forced to do manual labor every day. While working near the site of Russ Pond, they ambushed the MP on guard duty and shot him to death with his gun. They eluded the MPs and made it to Harmony Church on foot, stole a Jeep and made it as far as South Carolina before they were apprehended.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Carn and O’Conner were initially buried in unmarked graves outside the Main Post Cemetery, but their remains were relocated in 1983, and their graves were marked with headstones. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, flags are traditionally placed on every grave in the cemetery, except for the graves of the only two Soldiers ever formally executed on Fort Benning.

That’s it for this week’s edition of #HauntedFortBenning. I’ll find something lighter next week, I promise. In the meantime, we’ll lift your spirits at Oktoberfest this weekend at Uchee Creek. You’ll find details and a schedule of events at benningmwr.com. And if you catch me there and share a #HauntedFortBenning story of your own, I’ll buy you a beverage!

Bridgett Siter
Directorate of Family & Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Fort Benning, Georgia

#LifeisBetteratBenning