LAURINBURG — A Scotland County military footnote that began near Maxton in 1942 became even more newsworthy and significant in early June this year when a replica of the Army’s WACO CG-4A Glider was built and dedicated at Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Training Group by the 1stBattalion at Camp Mackall, about seven miles from Fort Bragg. Named after Pvt. John Mackall, he is thought to be the first paratrooper casualty in World War II and is the only Army base named after an enlisted soldier. The glider’s tail number, 111242, corresponds to the date Mackall died: Nov. 12, 1942.
Glider duty was dangerous, and the gliders were called “flying coffins,”Gooney Birds” and more respectfully “Silent Wings.”
Laurinburg’s place in the war effort ended Oct. 30, 1945, when the glider project closed at the Laurinburg-Maxton Air Base.
However, the connection to Laurinburg cannot be minimized, and one of the guests at the June 7 dedication was St. Andrews faculty member Dr. David Herr who has become a link for those 73 years.
Dr. Herr, associate professor of history and Liberal Arts department chair, was invited to the dedication because his public history students, faculty colleague Dr. Valerie Austin and he helped research to build specifications for the Glider replica that was being built by Scotland County native Beau Neal and Oak Grove Technologies.
“Our work uncovered dimensional drawings and details of the glider not previously available. Our search took us to contacts in Texas, Wisconsin and France. After the class ended two years ago, I stayed in touch with Beau as his team completed the glider. The glider replica includes the front cockpit frame section from an actual CG-4A that crashed at Camp Mackall and was discovered years later,” Dr. Herr said.
According to Lt. Col. Seth Wheeler, who spoke at the ceremony (and reported by The Fayetteville Observer military editor Drew Brooks), “Camp Mackall — once called Camp Hoffman — was an installation to behold, with over 65 miles of paved roads, a 1,200 bed hospital, two cantonment areas with five movie theaters, six beer gardens, a triangle-shaped airport with three 5k foot runways and a total of 1,750 buildings including three libraries and 12 chapels.”
Camp Mackall was home to U.S. Army Airborne Command that needed greater maneuver areas and airfields to train the expanding airborne and glider units — thus Laurinburg-Maxton became home to the CG-4A and the Glider infantry units. The 11th, 13th and 17th Airborne Divisions were headquartered at the camp. Additionally, the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division at Fort Bragg trained at Camp Mackall that later became a training location for Special Forces.
Dr. Herr notes that during World War II the CG-4A was the most widely used combat glider during the war and troops trained here served in campaigns in both the Pacific and European theaters including the Normandy invasion.
“As part of the class we located veterans including a former pilot and former members of the glider infantry, including retired General Robert Johnson. General Johnson passed away last year but his wife also attended the ceremony with me. Dr. Austin and I conducted oral history interviews with some of these veterans,” he said.
Oak Grove Technologies saved the templates and details of the glider replica. It is hoped that Scotland County and Laurinburg will consider having a second glider replica constructed for public display near Highway 74 to remind everyone of this area’s important role in World War II.
A lengthy description covering the Laurinburg-Maxton Airbase is available on Wikipedia along with photos. In part, that account adds that Generals Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshal visited a number of times. According to Wikipedia, the CG-4A Waco glider was huge and could carry 13 fully equipped soldiers, or a jeep with a 4-man crew and equipment, or a 75mm howitzer plus supplies and ammunition. It had a wingspan of over 80 feet and weighed over 4,000 pounds when empty. Manufactured primarily of wood, medal tubing and canvas, it was towed into the air by C-47s that connected to it by a tow rope that also carried basic communications between the glider and aircraft.
Engineers surveyed the site, water wells were dug and preparations were underway to build a railroad spur to the facility. The base was planned to be a large, expansive facility designed to house 10,000 men. The cost was over $10 million and netted 20 miles of paved roads within the compound.
Dr. Herr said that some homes in Laurinburg were built from the massive wood containers the Army used to ship the gliders. Each glider required five enormous hardwood containers.
“It was an extraordinary coincidence that at the same time my public history class was developing a research project about the history of the Maxton Airbase, Beau Neal had been asked by Col. Wheeler to create a life-size glider replica to mark the entrance of Camp Mackall,” Dr. Herr wrote following the ceremony. “The students had long wanted to discover an actual glider somewhere in Scotland County and while that didn’t happen, we were able to help Beau create a new glider with the exacting historical accuracy both he and the Army desired. The Sandhills region should be proud of their support for America’s effort in World War II and the glider replica helps remind people of that role more than seventy years ago.”
James R. Henery is the director of communications and university chaplain for St. Andrews University.