A striking museum in downtown Fayetteville – an easy escape only about two hours’ drive from Myrtle Beach – will leave a special, humbling impression in every visitor.
The U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum, 100 Bragg Blvd., at Hay Street, takes guests on journeys that specialty soldiers have taken to help safeguard our nation and service personnel, from World War II through the second decade in this century with the continuing war on terror.
The layout of this building, opened in 2000 – and dedicated with then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, now retired Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, a Tar Heel native and N.C. State University graduate – takes a chronological tour from 1940 and the birth of a new weapon of war against the Third Reich: paratroopers. That first airborne assault command was coordinated by then-Maj. William Lee, from nearby Dunn and forever known as the “Father of the American Airborne,” who helped plan the the air invasion of Normandy two years later. That’s when the 101st Airborne Division would “Stand up, hook up, and see you in France.”
The World War II wing of the building fills its expanse. Stop by for a seat in the fuselage of a former C-47 military transport plane, and nearby, watch a video of paratroopers taking their leaps.
Peer closely at collections of memorabilia such as a Japanese imperial battle flag with its rising red sun and rays, and inscribed with a Shinto prayer and signed in Japanese by well-wishers. Also in the Pacific Theater area, check out a “C-B-I” theater patch from the Allies, with its sun symbolizing China, the star for Burma and India, and the stripes for the United States.
One area pays tribute to the “Triple Nickles,” the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion composed of all black men, led by Capt. James H. Porter, as these pioneer smokejumpers helped guard the U.S. Northwest from Japanese launched incendiary balloons intended to start forest fires. A highlighted quote captured these men’s heart: “They fought for freedom, even though they were not free themselves.”
Learn about how British-made folding bicycles aided airborne divisions in landings in Germany, carried on gliders and in containers.
The start of the long Cold War includes plenty of material from the Korean War, to start the 1950s. Read the details on a North Korean soldier’s ID card, including his birth and enlisted dates, and monthly pay, and test your eyes in studying counterfeit vs. real North Korean currency in a 100-won note.
One panel explains how the Green Beret became the symbol for U.S. special forces after then-President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Fort Bragg.
Standing beside a preserved Howitzer, amaze your mind when pondering how they were delivered: by pallet to combat drop zones.
Moving on to the Vietnam War era, take home thoughts of some tricks of the trade used on Southeast Asian soil, with boots that left barefoot prints, used by special forces to fool enemies. A UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, with mannequins shown in various modes – including a medic tending to an injured solider – remains its own symbol of that conflict that spanned four U.S. presidencies into the mid-1970s.
When walking by the M-551 Sheridan light tank on display, think about how it was airdropped in 1989 for use in airborne reconaissance for Operation Just Cause in Panama.
One sign contains two quotes that underscore the soul of everyone who serves in uniform for the Stars and Stripes, words that resonate as loudly today as when they were first uttered:
▪ “History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid” (President Dwight D. Eisenhower, former Army general and Allied commander in Europe).
▪ “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men [and today, women] stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm” (George Orwell).
Just meandering the self-guided course through this museum, two hours will pass by with ease. Then, returning outside will beckon some more minutes by another special memorial site. Within a ring of crepe myrtle trees, it salutes war dogs’ “Constant vigilance” because “the bond between a special operations forces handler & his K9 is eternal, trusting each other in a nameless language.” Inscribed stones of military K9s who died in service to our country, bear names such as Bart, Spike, Nemo and Reno.
Two other places adjacent to the museum property – Fayetteville’s Freedom Memorial Park and the N.C. Veterans Park – also remind everyone that “Freedom is not free.”
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum
WHERE: 100 Bragg Blvd., Fayetteville, N.C., at Hay Street. Reach downtown from Interstate 95, by taking Exit 46 and north on N.C. 87.
OPEN: 10 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and noon-5 p.m. Sundays (but not March 27, for Easter)
ALSO OPEN TWO MONDAYS IN 2016: May 30 for Memorial Day, and July 4 for Independence Day.
HOW MUCH: Free, but donations welcome
AREA INFORMATION: 800-255-8217 or www.visitfayettevillenc.com
ALSO IN FAYETTEVILLE: At the Crown Complex, 1960 Coliseum Drive – From I-95, take Exit 46 for N.C. 87 north, then Owen Drive west (left) a short distance:
▪ Fayetteville FireAntz, in Southern Professional Hockey League, in coliseum, 7:05 p.m. Feb. 5, 6, 12 and 19; and March 1, 11, 12 and 25. Also, 4:05 p.m. Feb. 21. $15, $17, $19 or $21 ages 13 and older, and $7 ages 12 and younger. 910-321-0123 orwww.fireantzhockey.com.
▪ Concerts such as Jason Aldean, with Thomas Rhett, and A Thousand Horses, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, in coliseum; Boyz II Men, 7:30p.m. March 11 in theater; and “Clifford The Big Red Dog Live!” 6:30 p.m. April 12, in theater. (Information at 910-438-4100 or www.crowncomplexnc.com, tickets at 800-653-8000 or www.ticketmaster.com.)