By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
In life, Marvin Leath, Tommy Joe Mills and Bernie Beck worked closely as advocates for Fort Hood, so it is only appropriate that after their deaths they be so close at the post they loved so much.
The main gate, just down the road from the Marvin Leath Visitor Center, was renamed the “Bernie Beck Gate” and Hood Road was renamed “T.J. Mills Boulevard” on Monday. The visitor center was named for Leath in February 2006.
Billy Mills, Tommy Joe’s son, called them the “Three Musketeers.”
TOMMY JOE MILLS
Mills was born on Nov. 17, 1929, on a farm eight miles south of Killeen.
As a boy, he watched the first convoy of six to eight Army vehicles heading to Camp Hood at the start of World War II. One of Mills’ first jobs was selling newspapers for five cents at Camp Hood.
He once again worked at Camp Hood after he married Lawanna Elliott, this time with the post engineers repairing refrigerators. He was laid off a year later. This job began Mills’ long career in the appliance business, which started out rocky at first. He eventually opened Modern TV and Appliance in December 1957 and because of Army rotations from Europe to Central Texas, the area was brimming with customers.
In the early 1960s, Mills joined the Killeen Chamber of Commerce and Association of the U.S. Army.
He was appointed as the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for North Texas in 1986, Civilian Aide at Large in 1994 and later as Civilian Aide Emeritus.
“The outstanding young people who sacrifice so much deserve the support of every American,” Mills said at the time of his first appointment. “I am honored to be in a position to advise the Army leadership and my civilian counterparts on ways to improve their quality of life and to honor their commitments.”
He served as president for the Central Texas-Hood Chapter, Association of the U.S. Army in 1973, 1974 and 1981, and was responsible for establishing the AUSA High School Scholarship Program.
Among his work at Fort Hood, he played a major role in the construction of 360 new three- and four-bedroom housing units on post.
Mills died May 24 after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
Beck was born on Aug. 7, 1922, in Brookhaven, a community that was located in the area now occupied by Fort Hood.
He married Eula Lea “Sis” Hunt in 1942, and she lives in the area now.
Beck served in World War II for four years in Europe with the 65th Infantry Division, and returned to the Fort Hood area in 1946.
He started working at First National Bank as a teller under the GI Bill, and rose rapidly, eventually helping to organize Fort Hood National Bank. As part of his job at the bank, Beck would meet the Fort Hood payroll trains at midnight for years, take the money back to the bank, count it out and deliver the soldiers’ pay the next day.
Beck and a group of investors purchased Union State Bank in 1955 and Beck became president in 1972, according to past Herald reports.
Beck was president of the Killeen Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee for more than 15 years, and he served as president of the local AUSA chapter in 1963. He was also the first co-recipient of the Good Neighbor Award, designed by then-Gen. Thomas Schwartz to honor outstanding civilian service to the Fort Hood community in 1996, according to information from Fort Hood.
Beck died May 9, 2003, in Houston. He was 80.
Mills was a key player in helping get Leath elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1970s.
In 12 years as a representative of the 11th District, which no longer exists, Leath funneled more than $1 billion to Fort Hood for construction projects, according to Herald reports. One of those projects included the III Corps Headquarters building.
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who succeeded Leath in what is now the 17th District, said during the visitor center dedication in 2006 that the headquarters building cost the equivalent of $150 million in modern dollars.
Leath was a native Texan who enlisted in the Army in 1954 and served two years. His goal was to make sure “Fort Hood stayed strong for future generations,” said his son, Thomas Leath.
Leath died at the age of 69 in 2000.
Mills and Beck were local residents and businessmen who shared a vision of what Fort Hood could become, said Maj. Jay Adams, a III Corps spokesman.
Amid the celebration on Monday, each man’s family said they would have been humbled by such honors. Tommy Joe was probably up in heaven, shaking his finger and saying “you should’ve never let that happen,” Billy Mills said.
What is important, though, is that people know how much Mills loved Killeen, Fort Hood and all soldiers, Billy said. It was about being a good listener and asking service men and women what they needed, he added. He called his father a little man with a big heart.
In the early 1990s, Fort Hood was not known as a place soldiers wanted to be stationed, said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, III Corps’ and Fort Hood’s commander who was recently approved by the Senate for promotion to general and as the next commander of Multinational Force-Iraq. Now Fort Hood is the finest installation in the Army and Mills and Beck had more to do with that anyone else, he added.
“Both were outstanding leaders in the community and extremely strong advocates for the improvement in the quality of life for soldiers and their families here at Fort Hood,” said Ron Taylor, current Central Texas-Fort Hood AUSA chapter president and senior vice president at Fort Hood National Bank. “They were strong voices for the Army on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and provided outstanding support for soldiers over many years.”
Tommy Joe and Bernie had a great vision that Fort Hood would be a premier installation and that has come true, Billy said. The two wanted to make Fort Hood a great place so it is ironic that it is now called “The Great Place,” said Coleen Beck, Bernie’s daughter.
Bernie, too, would be humbled by Monday’s ceremony, but would consider it a great honor because he loved Fort Hood, said his widow, Sis Beck.
“Bernie was a soldier in the Army and then he was a soldier in civilian life,” Sis said.
Temporary street signs were installed this weekend on post and plans are under way for permanent signs on and off post.
Officials are also planning to build a formal monument in the men’s honor near the newly named gate and boulevard. A formal dedication for the monument is set for April 2009.
The Army Memorialization program has several criteria that must be met before a structure can be named in someone’s honor, Adams said. The honoree has to be deceased and if he or she is a civilian, must have contributed tremendously on a large scale, he added.
Mills and Beck did much to improve the infrastructure on post and invested much of their own time and resources to serve as advocates for soldiers and Fort Hood, Adams said. Naming the structures after these two men was a “no-brainer, he said.
Plans are also underway to include information about Leath, Mills and Beck at the visitor center so people will know just how much they contributed to the post. It’s important to extend a sense of tradition, Adams said, giving a permanence to Fort Hood’s history.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.