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Latino civil rights leader will help remove Confederate symbols, names from military bases

Lawrence Romo heads a group formed to protect Mexican American World War II veterans from discrimination.
Lawrence Romo speaks during press conference.
Lawrence Romo speaks during a news conference on Jan. 29, 2016, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO — The leader of a national veterans' civil rights group formed to protect Mexican Americans from discrimination has been added to a commission tasked with devising a plan to remove Confederate names, monuments and symbols from military bases and assets.

Lawrence Romo, national commander of the American GI Forum, was named to the bipartisan commission, which will ultimately decide the bases and other military assets whose names should be changed or any symbols, monuments, displays or other items commemorating the Confederacy that should be removed.

National defense legislation mandating the removals became law in January after Congress overrode a veto of the legislation by then-President Donald Trump.

A plan, which will include community input, is due back to the House and Senate Armed Services committees by October 2022, and the secretary of defense must implement the plan by Jan. 1, 2024, under federal law.

Romo joins seven others who were named to the commission — the secretary of defense appointed four people and members of Congress picked the other four. He is the only Latino on the commission.

Initially the commission would have been made up of five people who are white and three who are Black, but one of the Black appointees was unable to serve. Romo had been among nominees from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"Each appointed commissioner brings a wealth of diverse experiences and knowledge to the table and rest assured we will be diligent in our efforts to create a fair, diverse and detailed plan as required" by the law, Romo said in a statement to NBC News.

Confederacy targeted Mexicans

The Confederacy and its loyalists also targeted Mexicans and people of Mexican descent. Its symbols and monuments still embody that racism to many Latinos.

One of the bases named for a Confederate officer is Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Its namesake, John Bell Hood, was an officer in the Confederate army who led the "Texas Brigade."

Some have suggested the sprawling Army post in Central Texas should be renamed Fort Benavidez for Medal of Honor winner Roy Benavidez, a Vietnam War veteran.

Romo, a San Antonio native, served under former President Barack Obama as director of the Selective Service System, which operates the nation's military draft registration. He retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force and is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.

Romo's volunteer work for President Joe Biden during the 2020 primaries and general election earned him status as "San Antonio's most loyal Biden supporter" in his hometown newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. He was a national delegate to the Democrats' national virtual convention.

The American GI Forum, which he heads, was founded after World War II by Dr. Hector P. Garcia in Corpus Christi, Texas, after he witnessed discrimination against Mexican Americans by what was then the Veterans Administration.

A diverse commission to tackle racism's legacy

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, also from San Antonio, and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., a veteran who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, worked to include a Latino member on the commission.

As a Latino American, Romo "will ensure that the commission itself more closely resembles the diversity of the American people that gives us strength in the face of the racism and bigotry that was at the core of the Confederacy and which continues to haunt our country today," Gallego said in a statement Monday.

Gallego said "it has always been inappropriate" to have military bases named for people "who committed treason by waging war against the United States."

Castro praised his fellow San Antonio native, saying in a statement that Romo is "deeply dedicated to civil rights and public service."

"I hope this commission honors Latino service members by naming at least one base for a Latino who contributed greatly to the defense of our nation," Castro said.

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