When he heard that we’d visited Fayetteville, North Carolina, our neighbor Mike, an army retiree, said (as if he were reciting a mantra): “Nothing good happens on Hay Street.” Hay is the street that runs through downtown Fayetteville. When we were there, during the day, it was a quiet street lined with Victorian-ish storefronts. After dark, though, it apparently turns into a place where off-duty soldiers go to get into trouble. Fayetteville is best known as the home of Fort Bragg, headquarters of the US Army’s airborne and special forces divisions.
Fayetteville is dominated by Fort Bragg and, without ever having seen it, I’d always thought of it as a dismal, cultural wasteland of an army town. We were only stopping there because it was halfway on our drive home from Savannah. Turns out that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Downtown Fayetteville has a quaint, historic vibe and the area has loads of historic sites to see.
Still, we didn’t buck the trend and started our Fayetteville visit at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, a modern mega complex across from the historic train station downtown. The museum is owned by the army and supported by a foundation. Admission is free.
The museum tells the 75-year-old history of the US Army in the air, starting with its beginnings during WWII and going through its current efforts in the Middle East. The museum did what I thought was a remarkable job making military history accessible. There was tactical details for the military types and human interest stories for the social history types.
The flag above is that of the 555th Parachute Infantry Division, also know as the Triple Nickles. They were the first all African-American airborne unit in the US military, activated in 1943. The history of the 555th is the story of segregation in the US military: after being created by no less than George C. Marshall and being trained as military parachutists for combat in WWII, they weren’t allowed to serve overseas. The US military commanders in Europe and in Asia simply didn’t want them. So they ended up fighting forest fires in the US.
The museum is located next to the North Carolina Veteran’s Park, which had some of the most interesting and unusual (for a veterans’ memorial) art I’d ever experienced. For example, the work below represents the community that supports the military, with 50 columns representing North Carolina’s 50 counties, and each column with castings of hands belong to the people of those counties.
The day that we were in Fayetteville was the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams. Several Adams-related historical societies and venues, including the church in which they were married, were banding together for a reenactment of the wedding on that day. Abigail Adams is probably my favorite Founding Parent and I tweeted my disappointment at not being there. The Fayetteville Convention and Visitor Bureau tweeted back immediately, with a long list of historic attractions in their town that would make up for missing the wedding. And they engaged me throughout my Fayetteville visit. So I’m ending with a shout out to them — @FACVB — and recommending them as a very good follow.