Military Plays a Major Role in Moore
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Moore County's place in America's military history, as well as its cutting-edge future, is assured.
The first paratroopers ever to test combat jumps practiced them at Southern Pines' Knollwood Airfield, now the county airport. They wore jump gear and uniforms designed by a young Bill Yarborough, who would go on to become the famed general known as the father of the modern Special Forces.
It was Yarborough who secured approval from President John F. Kennedy for the Green Beret in a famous encounter when JFK, -reviewing Special Forces troops, said, "Nice headgear, soldier."
"It's not approved, Mr. President," Yarborough replied.
"It is now," said the president.
Yarborough, like many others, retired here after his distinguished military service. The county may have more military leaders of significant note playing golf on any given day than some countries have on active duty.
Many play important retirement roles in -community life. Retired Maj. Gen. Sid Shachnow helps raise money for the local chapter of Sentinels for Freedom, which assists badly wounded warriors in making a transition to civilian life.
Brass hats aren't the only military residents of Moore. Many families of Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen have children in local schools and live in local neighborhoods. During World War II, military maneuvers were commonplace from the start. Gliders rehearsed D-day landings, and parachutes blossomed overhead. Camp Mackall, which straddles the Moore and Hoke County lines, was home to gliders and airborne troops in that day, and is home to future Special Forces soldiers today.
Mackall is the only Army base named in honor of a private soldier: Private John Thomas (Tommy) Mackall. He served in the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. During the Allied invasion of North Africa in the airborne segment called Operation Torch, French Vichy aircraft mortally wounded Mackall during an attack on his plane as it was landing.
Today, soldiers undergo the tough SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) training there and in other parts of this county. Helicopters drop them off in Carthage at the Gilliam-McConnell "International" Air Field, and they head into the woods from its runway's grassy edge.
The field's builder and owner, Roland Gilliam, added the name of James Rogers McConnell in honor of another American military hero. McConnell was one of the founders of the famed LaFayette Escadrille in World War I. He recounted his experiences in his memoir, "Flying For France," before losing his life in aerial combat.
Over a thousand people came to his services in Carthage, but his body lies interred in the soil of France. A national monument in the form of a stele and two cannon ordered by the U.S. Congress stands on the grounds of the old county courthouse. A bronze plaque sent by the French republic presently mounted on a stone outside the Carthage Community House will soon be moved to a more prominent location beside the airfield.
"To free from oppressors" is the motto of the Special Forces, who pass their final hurdle before getting their SF tabs - and that special hat - running the gauntlet of Robin Sage, the culminating exercise of the Special Forces Qualification Course.
Civilian volunteers here and in 14 other North Carolina counties help by playing roles as residents of an imaginary country, Pineland. Some are grandfathers and grandmothers who've been Pinelanders for decades. Some are children. They act out scenarios that give student soldiers a chance to "think on their feet" just as they will have to do as Special Forces soldiers.
Soldiers returning from deployment to faraway places like Iraq and Afghanistan say that training was more like what they encountered in battle than anything else in their experience. Constantly changing, Robin Sage adjusts to the Army's needs in training for a changing face of war.
Today, Moore County expects to welcome new military families as Fort Bragg growth results from base realignment that closed some bases and expanded others. Like those who came before, many are likely to "get sand in their shoes" and someday come home here to stay.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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