As we near Memorial Day and pause to remember our military heroes, it’s also fitting to reflect on what it was like at the time of their service. Perhaps you have family members who served in past wars but know very little of what their lives were like. What were their weapons? What did their uniform look like? What did they have to eat and what comforts did they have when on the lines? What better way to get a perspective than to visit a military museum? Preserving the heritage of the military for prosperity is important; it gives a reality that reading a history book cannot achieve. Knowing that at some time in the past, someone wore those garments and carried those weapons to protect our country gives testimony to their sacrifice and the reason that we honor their service.
We are fortunate to have several museums close enough for a day trip. Fort Bragg is around a three-hour trip from Winston-Salem and is home to three military museums. When visiting Fort Bragg, you’ll need to show a photo ID, and a vehicle search is also required before driving onto the property.
The 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum has about 75,000 visitors per year and has been open to the public since 1945. There are additional family activities planned for museum visitors at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The museum highlights the history of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1917 to present day. There are approximately 5,000 items on display from World War I and II, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf Wars, Grenada, Panama, Operation Restore Hope and Operation Enduring Freedom. Displays include weapons (light armor, handguns, and rifles) and uniforms for the US troops, as well as from enemies captured in battle. Manuel Noriega’s nametag and military uniform are displayed from Operation Just Cause. The museum also shows a 25-minute film of the 82nd’s history.
The Airborne and Special Operations Museum, open since 1999, displays artifacts from 1940 to present. A special sight is the C-47 “Skytrain” plane suspended from the ceiling with a jumper ready at the door. A combat glider, a rare treasure, is also displayed, along with helicopters and other aviation-related items. Enjoy the film “Descending from the Clouds” to get a perspective of what it was like to drop into a battle area. The Pitch, Roll and Yaw Motion Simulator provides a first-hand experience of what it really felt like. The first Black Hawk downed in the Battle of Mogadishu is on display (depicted in the film Black Hawk Down). Later in 2016, an exhibition is planned to showcase the efforts of the Monuments Men to rescue artwork and artifacts taken by the Nazis during World War II. This group of 345 men and women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015 for their efforts in reclaiming these treasures.
The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum has been open since 1963 and is dedicated to preserving the history of Special Forces, Military Information Support Operations, and the Civil Affairs Unit. On display is a large collection of World War I and World War II propaganda posters. Other displays include the US Army Indian Scouts of the 19th century; the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (the wartime intelligence service for the US in World War II and predecessor to the CIA); the first Special Services Force (during World War II, approximately 1,800 American and Canadian men formed a commando unit trained in stealth, hand-to-hand combat, and other non-traditional methods); and Merrill’s Marauders (famous for their jungle tactics behind Japanese lines). There is also a piece of the World Trade Center.
These and other military museums have such historic significance. Visiting them, as part of a school field trip or a family outing, is a way to honor our military heroes and let them know we value their service to our country.