Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, and Military Heroes

Monday, August 24, 2009

God bless our U. S. soldiers, past, present and future. That was my thought as I recently toured Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the nation's largest military installation based on personnel, and the world's largest airborne facility - 160,832 acres. In 1952, it became home to the Green Berets and is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, the XVIII Airborne Corps and the Golden Knights, the U. S. Army's Parachute Team.


Martin Sandler82nd Airborne Memorial Museum
Martin Sandler
82nd Airborne Memorial Museum

The onsite 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum has a huge collection of military memorabilia from World War I to the present. World War II military aircraft are on the grounds. The intriguing onsite JFK Special Warfare Museum delves into Special Operations units from World War II and forward.

I experienced a patriotic surge as I watched young uniformed soldiers marching around the Fort Bragg campus and as I ate lunch alongside them in the Officers Club (a dining hall). They are surely our American heroes. Fort Bragg is like a self-contained city, with its own golf course, which is open to the public.

At Fort Bragg's Sicily Drop Zone, according to a jump schedule, visitors can observe paratroopers' airborne training. The JFK Memorial Chapel's stained glass windows are dedicated to Special Forces and here also is a monument John Wayne gave to them for their help when he filmed "The Green Berets." Another Fort Bragg monument is "Iron Mike," the powerful bronze statue dedicated to the Airborne Soldier.


Martin SandlerAirborne & Special Ops Museum
Martin Sandler
Airborne & Special Ops Museum

I have never seen a more spectacular military museum than the Airborne & Special Ops Museum located in downtown Fayetteville: realistic uniformed mannequins, sound effects, a Pitch, Roll & Yaw Motion Simulator ride, war sets, helicopters, jeeps, a C-47 "Skytrain" airplane suspended from the ceiling, a rare CG-4A glider from WW II, and a Sheridan tank so big that I'm told that part of the museum had to be built around it.

I was a toddler during World War II, so my knowledge of it comes from books and movies. I saw "Darby's Rangers," starring James Garner, "Merrill's Marauders," starring Jeff Chandler, and "Patton," starring George C. Scott, but at these military museums, the three men are spotlighted and the movies go from reel life to real life.

I was surprised to find an exhibit about Martha Raye. Because she dedicated herself to entertaining our troops overseas and she used her nursing skills to assist surgeons impromptu in the field during World War II, she received special permission to be buried at Fort Bragg. Fayetteville itself is full of surprises, like the fact that it was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who visited there in 1825.

In the early 1700s, when it was first settled by Scottish immigrants, it had a different name. The Museum of the Cape Fear, Fayetteville's regional history museum, chronicles the arrival, influence and customs of pioneers bearing names like MacDonald, MacRae, McLaughlin, MacPherson, MacGregor, Smith.

More surprises: A historical marker citing the Fayetteville spot where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in 1914; the 97-acre Cape Fear Botanical Garden's farmhouse and outbuildings depicting 19th-century farm life, and its gigantic (Brobdingnagian) pair of eyeglasses at the Lilliput Labyrinth in the children's garden.

Surprise! A Fayetteville murder mystery. Did Ann K. Simpson poison her husband in 1849 by putting arsenic into his dessert in the oval-shaped dining room of their boarding house? Ignoring damaging testimony, a jury acquitted her. It seems she later was found guilty of murdering her next husband, and she was executed.

Martin SandlerOval Ballroom--Ann's Boarding House
Martin Sandler
Oval Ballroom--Ann's Boarding House

Ann's boarding house (ca. 1808) is gone, but the oval-shaped room is now a free-standing building, the Oval Ballroom. It and two furnished homes (ca. 1800) comprise Heritage Square, a local attraction. The city has several heritage trails: Civil War; Gaelic Beginnings; Religious Freedom; Patriots Past and Present; American Independence; etc. Fayetteville lives up to its motto: History, Heroes & A Hometown Feeling. (Contact the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-888-NC CHARM.)

Roberta Sandler is an award-winning writer/author. Her newest book is A Brief Guide to Florida's Monuments and Memorials, published by University Press of Florida. She and her husband live in Wellington, FL.

posted at 10:51:53 AM

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