north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      The use of gliders to silently land large numbers of men near an enemy position offered promise to military strategists during World War II. Germany pioneered the use of gliders, demonstrating their effectiveness in May 1940 in an assault in Holland, and again in 1941 in the airborne and glider attack on British forces at Crete. The United States implemented its own glider program in late 1941 under the direction of North Carolina native Lewin W. Barringer, who died the following year in a plane crash, and Richard C. DuPont, who died in a 1943 accident.

      However, the individual most responsible for incorporating the glider concept into the U.S. military was North Carolina native Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, who had initiated the use of airborne forces at Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall. Lee combined paratroopers and gliders in developing the airborne element of the U.S. Army, and was responsible for the construction of Laurinburg-Maxton Air Base, the largest glider base in the world. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps considered the glider concept viable as well, and in early 1942 incorporated the craft into training exercises at the Marine air station in Edenton, a program soon moved to Parris Island, South Carolina.

      The Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base was activated on August 28, 1942, and housed the First Troop Carrier Command. The 4,644-acre base contained three 6,500- foot long runways that formed a triangle. The triangle’s center was 510 acres of Bermuda grass, the landing site for the gliders. In August 1943, Gen. Henry H. Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, witnessed a night operation of gliders at the facility and heaped extensive praise on the operation. From 1942-1945, thousands trained for combat onsite, including those who took part in airborne assaults in New Guinea, Sicily, Burma, and the Normandy and Market Garden operations. In the final two years of World War II, Laurinburg-Maxton became the primary U.S. base for training glider pilots. Personnel who received training at smaller bases in Indiana, Missouri, and Texas were transferred to North Carolina for completion of their instruction. At the war’s conclusion the base was deactivated. With the advent of helicopters, the military had no further need for the glider program. From 1946-1951, Scotland Memorial Hospital was housed onsite. Today, the facility houses an industrial park and publicly owned airport.


References:
North Carolina State Archives Military Collection, World War II, Box 105
(Raleigh) News and Observer, various issues, 1943-45
The State, January 16, 1943
(Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, February 11, 1996
John L. Lowden, Silent Wings at War: Combat Gliders in World War II (1992)
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