This 4th of July I wanted to get as deep into our nations military history as I could and I could not think of one thing more rooted in American history or more interesting than going to the home of the Special Operations & the Airborne Paratroopers. In the early 90's I was fortunate enough to be stationed at Fort Bragg and to be apart of the Americas Guard of Honor; the 82nd Airborne Division. I have been to quite a few military museums in my years but upon entering the parking lot of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum I got a great feeling that this experience was going to be like no other.
As soon as I turned in the parking lot from Bragg Boulevard I could not help but notice a large statue of a soldier whom I recognized. It was Iron Mike, the soldier of all soldiers, the symbol of what it is to be a hardened, well trained, and a professional soldier of the U.S. Army. This statute was what I remembered to be placed on Fort Bragg, but obviously Iron Mike had recon'd a new drop zone to call home.
Airborne & Special Operations Museum 100 Bragg Boulevard Fayetteville NC, 28301
Fort Bragg’s The Airborne Trooper is the newest Iron Mike statue. Known as the "Home of the Airborne," Fort Bragg hosts the 82nd Airborne Division as well as the XVIII Airborne Corps. Sculpted by Leah Hiebert in 1960 and 1961, using Sergeant Major James Runyon as a model, the statue depicts a World War II-era Airborne trooper with a Thompson sub-machine gun at the ready. The vision of former XVIII Airborne Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert F. Sink, the statue was not named for any one man or unit, but rather dedicated to all paratroopers; past, present and future. Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgeway, Anthony McAuliffe, Maxwell Taylor, Thomas Trapnell, and William Westmoreland were among the fifteen generals who attended the dedication ceremony. Originally installed at the southern entrance on Bragg Boulevard, the Airborne Trooper was moved to the traffic circle in front of the post headquarters in 1979 to prevent vandalism and increase visibility.
The original statue was made from polyester strips dipped in epoxy and stretched over a steel frame. Due to deterioration, it was replaced in 2005 with a bronze version. The original was refurbished and was moved to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina on June 14, 2010. A digital model of the original was created and used as a guide for the new version to ensure faithful replication of Hiebert's design. A ceremony to dedicate the new version was held September 23, 2005. President George
W. Bush spoke in front of the statue on July 4, 2006.
I was not surprised to be greeted by a veteran, but I was taken back to see that most of the staff were veterans from WWII, Vietnam, and there was even a Green Beret from the Desert Storm era of Special Operations. This gives the museum a touch of living history but also gives a bit more credence to the historical stories being told and placed on display.
This museum was like no other, the displays were top notch in design and realism and had a brilliant way to trick your imagination into believing you had stepped back into time and witnessing it first hand.