Mackall, Other County Sites Important to Military Efforts
By Norris Hodgkins
Special to The Pilot
I recently read a new book about Camp Mackall that brought back memories of the streets of Southern Pines filled with soldiers from the camp during World War II.
It also brought home the impact that people from our area had on the development of Camp Mackall, which is located just to the south of us, mostly in Richmond and Scotland counties.
The popular spots in Moore County for soldiers on leave were the restaurants, movie theaters and nightclubs. Also during the war, the Southern Pines Civic Club became a USO Center with bands from Camp Mackall playing for Saturday night dances for the soldiers and local girls.
The history of Camp Mackall is intertwined with the rise of airborne troops early in World War II.
One of the visionary leaders of this movement was our own Gen. Bill Yarborough, who was later instrumental in creating the Special Forces. Both programs used and are still using the facilities at Camp Mackall for their training exercises.
While Fort Bragg was headquarters for the new airborne operations, additional land was needed and was available only 12 miles away. About 7,500 acres was taken from the much larger Sandhills Game Land Preserve to start the new camp, with the Army retaining the right to use the remainder of the Game Land Preserve for maneuvers and training operations.
Starting in August 1942, construction began on the airborne command station, then called Camp Hoffman, designed to house up to 35,000 men.
It is interesting to note that the 1940 census showed a population of just over 30,000 for all of Moore County.
The first use of airborne troops in combat was in the invasion of North Africa in November 1942.
One of the casualties of that invasion was Pvt. Thomas Mackall. Shortly thereafter the name of the new camp was changed to Camp Mackall in his honor and to this day is the only Army camp in this country named for an enlisted private.
Somewhat earlier in 1942, the Army had located its Technical Training Command at the Pine Needles Hotel in Southern Pines and had also taken over the nearby Knollwood Airport.
In addition a new air base was established at Maxton, where planes and gliders were based that were used in the training exercises at Camp Mackall.
The next airborne attack after North Africa took place in Sicily in July 1943. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had been critical of this operation, and improvements in training resulted from this criticism.
In late 1943, the Knollwood Airport was at the center of a training exercise that would play a big part in the future use of paratroopers and gliders. The Knollwood Airport was the target and was captured in record time.
The Sandhills Citizen reported, "Between Aberdeen and Pinehurst scores of gliders landed. A few cracked up. Between Southern Pines, along near the race track, hundreds of parachutists landed. Civilians driving along that road could observe hundreds of parachutists still in the trees and on the ground."
All in all the operation was considered so much of a success that it led to the use of both paratroopers and gliders in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 4, 1944.
Gen. George Marshall, Army chief of staff during the war, was a frequent visitor to the area during the war years and would often bring Mrs. Marshall, who would stay at The Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst while her husband inspected the operations at Fort Bragg, Camp Mackall and Knollwood. On one such visit they purchased a home in Pinehurst, where they lived in his retirement years.
The temporary buildings that housed the troops during the war were demolished soon after the war ended, but in recent years have been replaced by a permanent installation near the airplane runways that feature three strips of more than 5000 feet each.
In a further connection to Moore County, Camp Mackall uses water from the Southern Pines Reservoir and sewage treatment at the Moore County Waste Water Treatment Plant, both located on Drowning Creek, which serves as border for a portion of the camp.
Norris Hodgkins is a longtime Southern Pines resident.
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