Cumberland County is home to several excellent museums that educate our visitors on the vast military history that has taken place here and abroad. Then there are dozens of military monuments and memorials, spread all over the county, reminding us of all the brave souls who answered the call of duty. Although thousands of military members transition in and out of Fort Bragg every year, you will find many veterans choose to call this area "home" or to return here for visits and reunions with their comrades. For good reason. Whether it's a formal occasion or a casual gathering, every day is a reunion in Cumberland County. We're proud of the many ways our communities honor and celebrate our bravest year-round, supporting their "pursuit of brotherhood."
Since May is when we recognize National Military Appreciation Month, I wanted to introduce our visitors to a few patriots whose lives of service have been forever memorialized here. In Part I of this two-part series, I shared about an African-American fifer who was buried with full military honors, a Union officer who went against his family's loyalties, and our first hometown patriot to be killed in action in World War I. Now I'm delving into the stories behind three other monuments that represent some of our bravest forces. Let me introduce you to the iconic symbol of our paratroopers, to a Special Forces soldier who was "a James Bond in real life," and to the last U.S. soldier to pay the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. As I've said before, you truly can’t turn a corner here without tripping over our military history, and these are the heroes who made that history.
It would be difficult to choose just one WWII hero to feature here, as Cumberland County can boast many heroes borne out of that war. WWII was the one that brought two airborne divisions to Fort Bragg, forever impacting this base and the communities that surround it; in 1942, both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were activated at Bragg, and airborne forces have been a presence here ever since.
The Airborne Trooper—more commonly known as “Iron Mike”—is the striking statue visitors to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum see as they are walking up to the entrance. Iron Mike serves as a reminder of the paratrooper, clad in a WWII uniform, who served his country. However, Lieutenant General Robert Sink proposed the design of this statue to pay tribute to all paratroopers, regardless of which war era they served in, and that it does.
Leah Hiebert, the wife of a deputy post chaplain, was the remarkable sculptor who brought this vision to life, using a model dressed in a WWII uniform and combat equipment. She worked with steel as the supporting material and used steel mesh to outline the basic details. This impressive statue measured over 16 feet tall, weighed over 3,000 pounds, and was quite a daunting figure.
During the dedication ceremony, in 1961, Lieutenant General T.J.H. Trapnell declared, “The paratrooper is now a symbol to freedom-seeking peoples throughout the world.” Since that ceremony, the statue has been moved from its original location on Fort Bragg twice, once because it had become a target for antiwar protesters during the Vietnam War.
In 2010, after restoration and a final relocation to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, Iron Mike was rededicated on National Airborne Day in front of a crowd of approximately 5,000 people. Today, you’ll also find a bronze replica of Iron Mike on Fort Bragg, in the original statue’s second location. (Original Statue - 100 Bragg Boulevard, Fayetteville; Replica Statue - Randolph and Armistead Streets, Fort Bragg)
Discover More —> The Airborne and Special Operations Museum is one of our most prized attractions, drawing around 130,000 visitors annually. Every year, the museum continues its tradition of celebrating National Airborne Day, and this year’s event will be in celebration of the airborne forces’ 79th anniversary.
The Major Richard “Dick” Meadows Statue is almost an exact likeness of the U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, intelligence operator, and combat leader whose impressive military career spanned a total of 30 years. Major Meadows joined the Army at age 15 or 16, in 1947, and quickly rose in rank to master sergeant by age 20—an unbelievable feat.
Not only did he serve in the Korean War, but also in the Vietnam Conflict. Just one of the operations he led was as team leader for the Son Tay Raid—an unsuccessful, though well executed, attempt to rescue U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam in 1970. He’s also known as one of the key influencers in the establishment of the Delta Force, a secretive military task force. Even after retiring, he continued to serve in an advisory capacity. During his lifetime, he was awarded the Presidential Citizen's Medal for Distinguished Service by then President Clinton. Other awards of his included the Distinguished Service Cross and a Bronze Star Medal.
After Major Meadows had passed away in 1995, H. Ross Perot proposed to Lieutenant General Peter Shoomaker the idea of the monument. The sculptor, Lawrence M. Ludtke, wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so he had Meadows’ grandson pose for him. The finished piece stands approximately eight feet tall and weighs 900 pounds. He’s carrying a Car-15 semi-automatic rifle and is dressed in full combat gear.
In his dedication ceremony speech, Perot called Major Meadows “a James Bond in real life.” It’s only fitting the massive bronze statue would be placed outside the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters. The field adjacent to the statue is the Meadows Memorial Parade Field, also named in Meadows’ honor. (2929 Desert Storm Drive and Yadkin Road, Fort Bragg)
Discover More —> Visitors interested in learning more about Major Meadows and the history of the U.S. Army Special Operations and Special Forces units would do well to explore the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum and the fascinating exhibits that showcase the unique role these elite forces have played in the history of unconventional warfare. (Building D-2502, Ardennes and Zabitosky Streets, Fort Bragg)
Less than five weeks before the official end of the withdrawal from Iraq, U.S. Army Specialist David Hickman was killed by a roadside bomb on November 14, 2011. Spc. Hickman had served in the esteemed 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division since enlisting in the Army in 2009. Tragically, this high school linebacker and taekwondo black belt was two weeks out from being shipped home to his new bride.
The 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment's history dates to World War I, even before paratroopers were jumping out of planes. More recently, it played a critical role in the initial invasion of Iraq by ground troops, in 2003. This regiment continued to deploy repeatedly over the war’s 10-year history and even following the official withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The 82nd Airborne Division, in general, has suffered more than its fair share of casualties in both Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) arenas—more specifically, 256 casualties, as of today's date.
Early in the wars, the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum erected a Global War on Terrorism Memorial on its grounds. The words, “In Memory of the Paratroopers Who Gave Their Lives in Support of the Global War on Terrorism” are etched into the front of this obelisk, granite monument. The other three sides are covered by paratroopers’ names. In fact, in just three years, the museum ran out of room to list the names of every one of “The All Americans,” so they expanded the memorial by adding a series of panels behind it, in 2008.
If you visit the memorial today, you’ll find Spc. Hickman’s name etched into one of those panels, alongside 255 of his All American brothers and sisters in arms. As a friend of his remarked to a journalist, “[David] wasn’t going to go out quietly. He’s going to go down with a place in history.” We will certainly never forget this paratrooper’s life, sacrifice, and place in history. (Building C-6841 Ardennes Street, Fort Bragg)
Discover More —> The newly renovated 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum is yet another Fort Bragg museum well worth visiting, for an in-depth look at the crucial role this famed division has played in multiple wars and conflicts all over the world; do not overlook the museum's Air Park, either, as that is where you can get an up-close look at several retired military aircraft.
Interested in planning a military reunion, whether formally or casually? The Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (FACVB) plays an integral role in helping units organize reunions, from finding venues to accommodations. I'd encourage you to consider the FACVB to be your best resource in making that happen and to start by checking out the great information they've shared on their Planning a Military Reunion site.
Then it's just a matter of planning your leisure time here. The "Pursuit of Brotherhood" video above gives just a few examples of what our veterans enjoy doing on a visit to the Fayetteville area. You'll discover many historical sites of interest on our Cultural Heritage Trails and Military Sites. Lastly, the FACVB's Calendar of Events features our communities' military events and other visitor-friendly happenings that occur here year-round. Come join us in "America's Hometown," where every day is a reunion!
Please note that some of the above facts, pertaining to our monuments, was sourced from the "Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina" site.