“In the summer of 1943 I was a 1st lieutenant at Fort Bragg, an immense artillery post in North Carolina. Each day we had two Officers of the Day. If all was quiet, the senior OD could take off for his quarters about 10 P.M., leaving the junior OD to catch whatever sleep he could on a cot.
“During one of my tours as OD, I had disrobed down to my undershirt and shorts and hit the sack around 11 P.M. Soon that damned air-alert phone sounded off and woke me. I was astounded by the caller’s ‘Red alert!’ I said, ‘Don’t you mean “practice red alert”?’ He said, ‘Repeat, red alert!’ My weariness disappeared immediately. The war had reached us here in the continental United States, and it seemed to be in my hands.
“The spotter on the North Carolina coast confirmed that a German Focke-WuIf twin-fuselage fighter had been positively identified coming westward from the Atlantic across the Hatteras shore. Speculation erupted all around me on how a single fighter plane could make it that far over water. Had it been launched from a submarine?
“Meanwhile, I was initiating the blackout of the East Coast from Cherry Point, North Carolina, to New York City. Navy ships were putting out from ports. Interceptor planes were taking off, and from what I learned later President Roosevelt was taken from his bedroom down to his underground shelter.
“Then the air alarm rang ‘All clear!’ It was all a mistake. We were not being invaded. We spread the word, and the lights came back on in the East. The subject plane was found to be an Army Air Corps P-38 whose pilot had failed to respond to the radio challenge.
“In a flurry of ribbons and braid, all the captains and the kings my alert had summoned now departed. All was quiet again. I had participated in a bit of World War II history—in my underwear.”
—From “Blackout” in American Heritage magazine by John F. Reynolds (September 1999)
“Two years ago this weekend, Michael Hoffman, then a U.S. Marine, was marching across the border of Kuwait as the war in Iraq began. On Saturday, he marched through the streets of this military town [Fayetteville] with other veterans, military family members and anti-war activists protesting the invasion he now believes was wrong….
“[Such demonstrations come] as national anti-war efforts try to regain footing after the re-election of President Bush.
“That is partly why one of the larger events was in Fayetteville, home of Ft. Bragg Army base, the Army Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne Division, now on its second tour of duty in Iraq. Police estimated that 3,000 people gathered in a park Saturday for Fayetteville‘s largest anti-war rally since Jane Fonda protested the Vietnam War here in 1971.”
— From “Army town draws anti-war protest; Thousands march across U.S., Europe on Iraq anniversary” by Dahleen Glanton in the Chicago Tribune (March 20, 2005)
The initialisms around the edge of this pinback button represent organizations such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out.
On this day in 1965: Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, recuperating at Fort Bragg from a punji-stick wound suffered in Vietnam, records “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” The tribute to his Special Forces comrades (“Fearless men who jump and die. . . . Men who mean just what they say. . . . “) will spend five weeks atop Billboard’s Top 40 list and become the best-selling single of 1966.
The Special Forces, an elite unit created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, are headquartered at Fort Bragg. At the height of the Vietnam War they number about 15,000 men.
Despite the success of “Green Berets,” the nation is fast losing its appetite for war, reinforcing Sadler’s prediction that “In two years I’ll be forgotten.”
The Fayetteville Observer makes smart use of the oft-mocked listicle to lay out “Top 10 game changers in Fayetteville’s history” (June 20), from the town’s failed attempt to secure the state capital in 1788 to the still-disputatious “Big Bang” annexation of 2005.
Here’s Matt Leclercq’s entry on the birth of Fort Bragg:
“Fayetteville was a sleepy town post-Civil War, with a population hovering around 5,000. Then came a ‘dusty June day in 1918’ when two government men from Washington were scouting sites for an artillery range and camp. There were few maps, and few roads, historian Roy Parker Jr. wrote, and they traveled by compass and ‘dead-reckoning.’ On the fourth day of their drive, they came across a rise north of Fayetteville and saw undulating, pine-covered sand ridges, Parker recounts. The War Department soon established Camp Bragg, which would become one of the largest military bases in the world.”
On this day in 1970: The pregnant wife and two young daughters of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald are murdered at their Fort Bragg apartment. MacDonald blames drug-crazed hippie intruders who chant, “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs,” but prosecutors will contend it was he who clubbed and stabbed his wife and 5-year-old in a fit of rage, then killed his 2-year-old to cover up his crime.
In 1979 a federal court in Raleigh convicts MacDonald on two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. The case inspires a TV mini-series, “Fatal Vision,” and numerous books debating his guilt.
MacDonald remains in federal prison but continues to appeal his conviction.